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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1843


Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (20:00): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) Australia currently permits the import of orange juice concentrate from Brazil;

(b) the United States has moved to ban imports of Brazilian orange juice concentrate due to traces of the fungicide Carbendazim being found in some juice concentrates from Brazil;

(c) in January 2010, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) suspended some agricultural production uses of Carbendazim, including use on all citrus fruits;

(d) in 2011 the APVMA completed its preliminary review finding of Carbendazim which has proposed removing many uses of this chemical; and

(e) the APVMA has proposed a change to remove the Maximum Residue Limits in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code that permits Carbendazim residues in some foods, including citrus products; and

(2) calls on the Government to instruct the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to increase the testing on imported juice concentrate to ensure Carbendazim is not present at levels which risk public health.

This issue came to light after Coca-Cola, that well-known firm that owns the juice manufacturer Minute Maid in the United States, alerted the US Food and Drug Administration that it had detected low levels of Carbendazim in its own orange juice. The US Food and Drug Administration was told by the manufacturer that some Brazilian growers had sprayed trees with the chemical.

Carbendazim is a fungicide registered in Australia for the control of a wide range of fungal diseases such as mould, black spot, mildew, scorch, rot and blight in a variety of crops. As a farmer myself, I understand these issues. Carbendazim is currently permitted for use on roses—which we do not normally eat—bananas, strawberries, ginger seed pieces, sugarcane setts pre-planting, pasture, red clover and subterranean clover, chickpeas, faba beans, lentils, vetch and macadamias, and in timber preservation. Under individual permit, Carbendazim may also be used on onion bulbs post harvest for seed production only, on pyrethrum—non-food crop—on mung beans, and on mushrooms, once only per crop when preparing casing material from peat. Although Carbendazim is permitted for these purposes, its actual use is believed to be quite limited.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the APVMA, commenced a review in 2007—five years ago—following advice from the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health that exposure to Carbendazim and its parent compounds could cause developmental abnormalities in experimental animals and hence might pose a potential public and occupational health and safety risk to people. That is what the motion before the House is all about. The APVMA addressed potential human health concerns by suspending the label approvals of Carbendazim products and issuing new instructions for use. It is obvious that there were some very serious concerns about this chemical. These new instructions provided revised safety directions for use of the product and a birth defects warning statement, to be attached to the container.

In Australia as of 25 January 2010, over two years ago, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority restricted the horticultural and turf uses of Carbendazim, based on data indicating that maximum residue limits for some food crops, and potential public exposure to treated turf, may not meet new health standards. New label instructions removed all uses, including post-harvest dipping, of Carbendazim on grapes; cucurbits, including melons; citrus fruit; custard apples; mango, pome fruit; stone fruit, including cherries; and turf. The APVMA also extended health warnings on Carbendazim product labels to include birth defects and male infertility in laboratory animals.

In the US the US Food and Drug Administration has temporarily banned Brazilian orange imports due to health concerns. Carbendazim is already a banned substance in the US. Carbendazim is legal in Brazil, where it has been used for more than two decades to fight blossom blight and black spot, a type of mould that grows on orange trees. Christian Lohbauer, spokesman for CitrusBR, the association that represents Brazil's four main orange juice producers, said Brazilian orange juice is routinely tested for this fungicide but has never been stopped by US customs over this issue. Mr Lohbauer says that any shipment of orange juice will test positive and he does not know what they will decide is the maximum level. That is just not acceptable to Australia. Their interest now is that juice keeps entering the United States, and of course Australia. The US Food and Drug Administration released a statement saying that it is sampling all import shipments of orange juice and will deny entry to shipments that test positive for Carbendazim. Up to 35 parts per billion were found in juice arriving in the US where it is banned. Carbendazim is currently only approved in the United States as a fungicide to treat non-food items such paints, textiles and ornamental trees. But another legal fungicide, thiophanate-methyl, can break down into Carbendazim after it is applied.

It is important to note that Australia imports 32,000 tonnes of frozen concentrate orange juice annually, two-thirds of which comes from Brazil. It is my understanding that juice labelled 'made in Australia' could be a product that is more than 70 per cent Brazilian concentrate. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the acceptable level for Carbendazim residue in Australian juices is 10 parts per million—above the amounts discovered in the U.S.

As outlined in the motion, APVMA has proposed a change to remove the maximum residue limits in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code that permits Carbendazim residues in some foods, including citrus products. During a Senate estimates hearing last week, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Chief Executive Officer, Steve McCutcheon, said that the APVMA had decided last November to amend the maximum residue limit for Carbendazim to zero. However, the recommendation was then watered down to halve the limit to five parts per million.

This issue is very relevant within my electorate. The Riverland is one of the four major citrus growing areas in Australia. The South Australian Citrus Board has called on the government to impose an interim ban on imports of orange juice concentrate from Brazil because of the contamination concerns. The Citrus Board Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Green, believes imports should be halted until imports are properly checked. Mr Green said to ABC Riverland on 19 January, 'I understand that AQIS does the testing here in Australia and it's at a five per cent type level, so something in addition to that would be important.' That comes back to the second part of my motion which calls for a greater testing. The Chairman of the Citrus Growers of South Australia, Mark Chown, also told ABC Riverland that juice already on sale needs to be tested.

Consumers need certainty, as do the growers. The Riverland region has experienced ongoing drought and many growers have had to re-invent themselves to survive. I wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Joe Ludwig, about this issue but I am yet to receive a response. In my letter I expressed the concerns of growers and the industry, and I expressed the need for increased testing by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. I ask the minister to listen to the concerns of the citrus industry, and I call on the government to support my motion. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr KJ Thomson ): Is the motion seconded?