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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6447

Mr ZAPPIA (11:37 AM) —I too rise to support the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010. This bill makes commonsense amendments to the labelling laws relating to labels on agricultural chemicals which have already been approved for use. In summary, if there are to be minor changes made to labels which do not affect the principal composition of the chemicals and which are essentially superficial changes to the product or the packaging and labelling itself, then the process will be streamlined. The changes are also made in conjunction with changes relating to the labelling laws administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and for which complementary legislation is necessary. These are the subject of a separate bill in this House which I will be speaking on later.

What I will focus my remarks on, however, is the use of chemicals in food production because that is what I believe the real debate should be about. Over time we have seen the increased use of chemicals in food production in order to eliminate pests and to increase production. As with the use of all chemicals, there are always unintended consequences, in particular health consequences, for both the farmers using the chemicals and the consumers using the end product, as well as contamination of the environment, as these chemicals are inevitably washed into the soil, into waterways and into the ocean.

The consequences of course are minimised by the research and approval processes in place, but the long-term effects are never fully known until many years later, and the safety is never 100 per cent guaranteed. Often it is only years after the product has been in use that the effects are clear and the chemicals used are then banned. In the interim the negative health effects are significant.

Just as concerning is the fact that food is increasingly being imported from countries overseas where there is little or no guarantee that those same chemicals are not still being used in food production. If they have been banned, one can never be sure that in countries which do not have effective compliance regimes the bans are being enforced. In fact, I am not absolutely certain that we have the systems in place in Australia to ensure that bans on products are enforced in this country as well.

I know this is a matter which greatly concerns many of the people I speak with. Food health risks and the consequences of the increased use of chemicals in the production of food are unquantifiable but nevertheless very real. The nature of medical conditions that have become commonplace throughout society but which were previously rare has changed markedly in recent years. Only this morning it was interesting to read in one of our daily newspapers about the rising level of cancer throughout the community. Again, I do not know what to attribute the rising level of cancer to, but I suspect that our food could be one of the sources.

The cause of these changes is difficult to establish. However, I have little doubt that our food sources are contributing to the health conditions of the nation and, in turn, the cost to the nation in responding to those health conditions. Not surprisingly, the provision of information on specific ingredients in foods is now a critical consideration of our food labelling laws. I note that our food labelling laws are themselves the subject of an extensive national review, with Dr Neal Blewett, a former member of this place and a former health minister of this country, heading the review panel. I can assure the House that in my own electorate the review of the food labelling laws with respect to not only the composition of the food in terms of its natural ingredients but also the chemicals that are being used in those foods and used to produce the food sources that goes into those foods is something that is frequently raised with me.

The use of chemicals in food production is likely to escalate into the future. In Australia most of our fertile agricultural land along Australia’s coastline is being used up for housing, pushing food production to less fertile areas. I have certainly seen that in my own home city of Adelaide. It was not that long ago that most of the fruit and vegetables were grown in and around the Adelaide CBD area, because that is where the most fertile land was. That land has now been almost entirely consumed by housing development. Not surprisingly, food production is slowly being pushed further out to country and regional areas, where it does of course provide an industry sector for those country and regional communities. Nevertheless, what it has done is push the production of fruit and vegetables out to areas where the soil is nowhere near as fertile as it was in the Adelaide Plains. Growing food on less fertile land requires increased use of chemicals. It is as simple as that. As more chemicals are used, they not only get into our foods but are washed into the land, into the waterways and into our coastal waters, causing very serious consequences.

A key goal of the development of extensive wetlands in northern Adelaide was in fact to prevent contaminated water from entering the adjacent coastal waters which were the home to Adelaide’s major fish-breeding grounds. I am also aware that this has been of real concern with respect to management of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, and I will talk about that in just a moment. But with respect to the fish breeding grounds off Adelaide in the Gulf of St Vincent, as a result of contamination of those waters we were seeing a reduction in the level of fish that were breeding. The development of the wetlands by the northern councils in Adelaide was done for a number of reasons, but one of the key reasons was to ensure that those contaminated waters were not entering into the Gulf of St Vincent, destroying the fish-breeding grounds, the sea grasses and the mangroves along the coast. As a result of the action taken, what we have seen in recent years is a reversal of those trends. The sea grasses are now regenerating, the mangroves have regenerating and so are the fish stocks. The fishing industry to South Australia is very, very important, and I can very well recall being lobbied by the fishing industry in South Australia to ensure that we tried to do whatever we could to preserve the fish-breeding grounds in the Gulf of St Vincent. I am pleased to be able to say that we are in fact doing just that.

to 60 kilometres inside the World Heritage area. As a member of the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts I also recall visiting the Great Barrier Reef and being briefed about the use of chemicals in that region, and being advised of the concerns being expressed about the washing of chemicals out into the coastline adjacent to the reef. Having said that, I have to say that we were also briefed about some of the terrific work that is being done by local communities there to ensure that that does not continue to happen, and I have to compliment many of the local communities for what they are doing.

Ms Marino —And farmers.

Mr ZAPPIA —And farmers, certainly. I appreciate the interjection, because it was in fact a local farmer who took us through his farm and gave us a firsthand demonstration of what he was doing with respect to trying to minimise the effects of chemicals being washed out into the waterways and into the coastline.

I said just a moment ago that only a week or so ago some members of this House were briefed by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The effect of that briefing was to highlight the concern that they had about the use of chemicals in the growing of fruits, vegetables and other crops in this country. One of the things that concerns me as a result of their presentation—and I assume that their presentation was factual—is that it quite often takes many years for a chemical about which concern has been expressed to be reviewed, sometimes between five and 10 years, and I understand that there are some cases where reviews have been underway for something like 13 years or more. That seems to be an extraordinarily long period of time.

We were also advised that there are chemicals which have been banned by the European Union but which we continue to use in Australia. Again, those kinds of statements are of concern, and I am pleased to see that Minister Tony Burke is in the chamber because I am sure that he will take them on board. Those kinds of concerns are being put to me by the very people I represent, and it would be reassuring to know that we have the systems and review processes in place to provide some level of comfort to the people of Australia that chemicals being used are in fact not a risk to their health.

In closing, I want to also point to some very good and responsible examples of gardening and agricultural practices in Australia. The example I will use is an example of something that I know is occurring right around Australia in many local communities. On 5 June, I visited the Wynn Vale Community Garden in the electorate of Makin. The concept of community gardens is not new to me, and I know that many communities around Australia have similar gardens in place. What most impressed me about the Wynn Vale Community Garden was just how well-organised it was and the diversity of fruit, vegetable and flower plantings that the 25 or so members had grown, and how well each of the garden beds was being cared for. Half of the garden is devoted to individual plots, and the other half to communal plots of herbs, ornamental vegetables and native varieties.

There is a strong emphasis throughout the garden on saving water and, in that respect, there was a water harvesting wetlands area located adjacent to the garden where the water is collected, and there are discussions underway between the community garden and the local council to pipe water directly from those wetlands and then use it on the garden. Produce from the garden is shared or donated to charity, so a great deal of the members’ work benefits others. For children who visit the garden, it becomes a fascinating educational experience about how food is grown.

Planning for the Wynn Vale Community Garden commenced in 1994, with land donated by the city of Tea Tree Gully. Since then, it has received grants from the federal government and local government and has been recognised for its work, with awards from the Heart Foundation and KESAB. In 2004, the garden was featured in a segment on the popular ABC television show Gardening Australia. In fact, the group has had to limit membership numbers, and I understand that there is a waiting list. The group regularly invites in gardening experts to speak about gardening to members, and on the day that I visited there was one such expert doing exactly that—teaching people how to grow flowers, fruit or vegetables with minimal use of any chemicals whatsoever.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was that the membership appeared to be fairly evenly split between men and women, and they all equally contributed to the gardening activities. It was terrific to see that it was evenly split between men and women, and it reminded me very much, I suppose, of what I would refer to as a men’s shed, a place where men could go out and do what they wanted to do. But in this case it was a men’s and women’s shed, and they did have a shed on the property—in fact they had several sheds, which they obviously used to assist them with their activities.

I say to the Wynn Vale Community Garden members: I congratulate you on what you have achieved. I thank them all for their welcome to me on the day and their hospitality, and I particularly thank Graham Douglass, whom I have known for several years, for providing me with a guided tour of the garden. As I have said from the outset, I think this bill makes common sense in respect of the administration of the labelling laws relating to the chemicals used in the production of agricultural products in this country, and I commend the bill to the House.