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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 110

(Question No. 3822)

Mr Scott asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 30 April 1986:

(1) Will the Government direct that no further promotion of food irradiation be undertaken until a federal public inquiry is held; if not, why not.

(2) Is it a fact that the irradiation of food reduces the need to use insecticides, such as halogenated hydrocarbons, and other chemcials such as ethylene oxide; if so, does the Government expect food irradiation to be encouraged at State level.

(3) Does the Government accept the need for a federal regulatory agency to set standards and to protect the environment and public health from hazards such as radioactive substances, radioactive waste and hazardous chemicals; if not, why not.

(4) Does the Government accept the criticisms made by J. Braithwaite and P. Grabosky in `Occupational Health and Safety Enforcement in Australia' that State health departments rarely prosecute for infringements of radiation standards and that Government checking of exposure levels is aimed more at a diagnostic service to licensees with problems than at policing the integrity of their self-monitoring; if so, does this policy inevitably allow hazardous exposures to occur.

Dr Blewett —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Government has not been involved in promoting food irradiation. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently recommended to the States and Territories a Model Food Standards Regulation for the Irradation of Food.

To allow adequate debate regarding the implications of food irradiation and also because of particular concerns raised by consumers, I have contracted with the Australian Consumers Association (ACA) to conduct a consumer inquiry to examine the impact of food irradiation on consumer health and the environment, and the cost of food irradiation to consumers. The ACA is to present its report to me by March 1987.

I have also asked State Health Ministers to take no action on food irradiation until the report from the ACA is available.

(2) Yes. As far as I am aware, only Queensland has so far shown an interest in this process.

(3) A number of federal bodies are already involved in setting standards for the protection of public health, the workplace and the environment from hazardous agents. These include the National Health and Medical Research Council, Worksafe Australia, the Australian Environment Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment which administers the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act 1978. Standards, recommendations and codes of practice are prepared by these bodies, with State and Territory consultation, and these are made available for use by the States and Territories in their legislative programs to control these substances. Legislation to establish a National Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme is being prepared by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment.

(4) I am advised that such criticisms have been made. The approach to implementation of regulations and law enforcement by a regulatory authority in relation to radiation standards is dependent on the perceived risks to health arising in any given situation.

Law enforcement is appropriate where the health of an individual is likely to be immediately affected due to non-compliance with specified safety requirements.

Law enforcement is also appropriate in those situations where prescribed protective facilities have not been provided and prescribed work procedures have not been instituted or followed and where continuance of those situations could demonstrably lead to prescribed exposure limits being exceeded.