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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1846


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (20:11): I am pleased to speak tonight on the motion that the member for Barker brings to the chamber. The motion calls on the government to instruct the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to increase the testing on imported orange juice concentrate to ensure that the fungicide Carbendazim is not present at levels which would risk public health. I understand the member's concerns, representing as he does the Riverland area of South Australia in his electorate of Barker. I also understand that Australian citrus producers, including those in the Riverland, provide a quality product and that the importation of orange juice concentrate is seen by some as a threat to the local industry. I see many parallels with the fate faced by many manufacturers in my own electorate of Throsby where we do not grow too many oranges. We do consume a fair bit of orange juice but we do not grow too many oranges. I understand that the Australian citrus producers, including those of the Riverland, produce a quality product and that the importation of orange juice, particularly orange juice which is infected or contaminated by the fungicide which is identified in this motion, not only threatens the product but it threatens the quality and the confidence of the entire market for orange juice.

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority, APVMA, is responsible for the regulation of chemicals that are used on food crops and animals, and the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, FSANZ, is responsible for ensuring safety in the food supply. These organisations are responsible for determining a safe residue level of Carbendazim in foods that Australians will consume. I have been advised that FSANZ is not currently aware of any test results in which Carbendazim levels in orange juice have been above this safe level, with the highest to date being 0.8 parts per million—well below the current limit.

While it is true that the United States has moved to ban imports of Brazilian orange juice concentrates due to traces of Carbendazim, we also understand that the United States is a net exporter of citrus juice with the states of Florida and California producing more than 11 million tonnes of orange juice each year. Australia is clearly not in the same position.

Mr Adams: Orange County.

Mr STEPHEN JONES: Orange County indeed. Our domestic market is only able to support around 45 per cent of the needs of the orange juice industry, with a national orange fruit juice production at approximately 438,000 tonnes annually. That is a market that I am advised is actually increasing, not decreasing. I can definitely say that this government, and I in particular as the member for Throsby, strongly support local manufacturing, including food manufacturing. Indeed, tomorrow I will be hosting a group of workers at a function in the House who represent workers in the food manufacturing industry and who are concerned about this issue, their ongoing competitiveness and the future of food manufacturing in this country.

We know that food and beverage production is a major industry sector for the Australian economy in terms of both its financial contribution and the jobs associated with it. Food and beverage processing is Australia's largest manufacturing industry—and this is not well known—with sales exceeding A$70 billion each and every year, accounting for around 18 per cent of manufacturing employment. When people think of the manufacturing industry, they think of the automotive industry and the steel and other heavy manufacturing industries but they do not think of food. They do not think of the tins of food that they may put on their pantry shelves or the things that they buy at the grocery store each and every week. But it is the largest employer, accounting for over 18 per cent of manufacturing employment.

The Gillard government has a strong commitment to food safety and a commitment to ensuring consumers have the best possible information about the food that they eat. This is why the government commissioned and supported the Blewett review into food labelling and why it has supported the implementation of the majority of its recommendations. Also, in January 2010, the government acted on the advice of an APVMA review into the use of the fungicide and suspended pre- and post-harvest uses of Carbendazim by Australian primary producers on a range of products including citrus fruits, oranges among them. This review is still an ongoing process, as is the APVMA's consultation with FSANZ on this matter. These processes are of upmost importance to the government.

FSANZ's current advice is that a 70-kilogram adult—somebody about my size—would need to drink 140 litres of orange juice per day to consume an unsafe amount of the fungicide Carbendazim. As fond as I am of orange juice, I can tell this House without any fear of misleading it that never have I consumed 140 litres of orange juice per day, so I am fairly confident that I have not tripped the magic level—the dangerous level—of consumption of orange juice such to consume so much of the fungicide Carbendazim to have reached the national maximum residue limit. The best science that is available at the moment says I and those who consume a moderate amount—far less than 140 litres a day—are not in the danger zone.

That is not to say that we should not as a government be providing all the resources that are necessary to the regulatory authorities to ensure that we have the best science available to us. If as is suggested by the member for Barker in his motion the current science, which says that 140 litres of orange juice per day is the unsafe level, is not correct then we should be reviewing that. I support the sentiment reflected in the motion by the member for Barker for us to ensure that those levels are reviewed. Let the policy follow the science. If the science tells us that we have it wrong then I will be first to stand in this place to ensure that we get this right in the interests of consumer safety but also in the interests of local food manufacturers and not allowing an unfair advantage to accrue to Brazilian producers or, for that matter, to producers from any other country anywhere else in the world. We do not want unsafe products to be put on the shelves of our supermarkets, putting the health and safety of Australian consumers at risk. I once again thank the member for Barker for bringing this important matter before the House.