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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 558

Senator BOSWELL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. Is the minister aware that the National Food Authority is proposing a variation to its food standards which would, in effect, double the allowance of the cadmium content in peanuts, rice and wheat? Is the minister also aware that the NHMRC, in its March 1989 review, found `that the present margin of safety is small' and that `any amendment to the food standard would increase dietary exposure to cadmium'; and that the World Health Organisation's 1989 review said that all efforts should be made to reduce cadmium intake in diet? In view of this, is the minister satisfied that the proposed variation for increased cadmium levels does not represent a health risk to Australian consumers of wheat, rice and peanuts?

Senator CROWLEY —I am aware that the National Food Authority is proposing a variation to food standard A12 to amend the maximum allowable level of cadmium in peanuts, rice and wheat. Peanuts, rice and wheat fall within the `all other foods' category, which encompasses those foods that do not have a discrete entry in the code. Discrete entries are reserved for those foods that have a generally high level of cadmium, including liver.

  The code currently allows a maximum permitted cadmium concentration of all other foods at 0.05 milligrams per kilogram. This level was set in 1980 based on limited 1975-76 Australian market basket survey data. At the time the level was set, there was no information to confirm that 0.05 milligrams per kilogram was an appropriate level for peanuts, rice and wheat.

  It has become evident that peanuts and some other grains do not always comply with this level. The authority has proposed that separate new categories be established in the cadmium standard for peanuts, rice and wheat and that the permitted level for these foods be 0.1 milligram per kilogram. Increasing the maximum permitted concentration of cadmium for these foods would recognise that the original levels were set unrealistically low and should be adjusted accordingly. The authority has completed toxicological evaluation and dietary modelling which indicates that an increase in the maximum permitted concentration of cadmium in peanuts, rice and wheat would pose only a minimum risk to public health.

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister said that there is only a minimum risk. Why would any risk be allowed? Why would the minister concede that we should allow our consumers to be subject to any risk—even a minimum risk?

Senator CROWLEY —On my understanding of the advice, we are saying that effectively that means no risk at all. That is the usual understanding of `minimum risk'. In other words, it is minimal—not of any significance. That is to be understood. If there is anything further I can find about the expression of `minimal risk' and any further evidence I can provide Senator Boswell, I certainly will.

  It is also important to recognise that the authority is trying to accommodate what is the real world for cadmium levels in peanuts, rice and wheat. Finally, there is no evidence that there is any further hazard in this area. We have to conclude that a risk-free world is not possible. If there is anything further I can provide to Senator Boswell, I will certainly get it.