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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4306


Senator SIEWERT (11:56 AM) —I seek leave to have my speech on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010 incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill permits APVMA to alter the label on chemical products to make them compliant with lower chemical residues regulations in our export markets. As the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry acknowledges ‘Trade risks can arise where residues are below the Australian maximum residue limit but exceed the standards set by an importing country’.

The Greens won’t stand in the way of legislation that will reduce the quantity of chemicals being applied to our crops, but the fact that this measure is necessary hints at a deeper problem.

Why is it that other countries benefit from a higher standard of protection from potentially harmful chemicals than Australia?

[Govt will say ‘because of different climatic conditions, crops, soils etc’, but this doesn’t explain their demand for lower chemical residues on foods that are grown elsewhere and imported, which is what we’re concerned with here.]

There are a number of conspicuous examples of chemicals that are permitted in Australia even though they have been abandoned elsewhere due to concerns with their health and environmental impacts. These include:

Atrazine

Used to control weeds and algaes in crops and timber plantations in Australia. It is an endocrine disruptor (i.e. it interferes with hormones) that has been de-registered in the EU since 2003 because it kept showing up in the groundwater. Earlier this year, the Endocrine Society released a scientific statement that advocated reducing the exposure of people to endocrine disrupters in light of the risk of adverse health effects. This was endorsed by the American Medical Association. Yet the APVMA continues to permit its use in Australia even though it has been found in our drinking water.

Endosulfan

Used in agricultural and horticultural crops in Australia for the control of a variety of insects and mites. It is another endocrine disruptor that the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants described as ‘persistent, bioaccumulative and has the potential for long-range environmental transport and adverse human health or environmental effects’. It has been banned in more than 60 countries.

Lindane

An insecticide used on pineapples. It is neurotoxic in humans, is suspected to be a risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease, has been associated with abnormalities of the blood, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that it ‘is possibly carcinogenic to humans’. It is banned in 52 countries.

Carbofuran

Registered in Australia to control pests on rice, tobacco, sugarcane and some cereal crops. It’s a neurotoxin. Symptoms of overexposure in humans include headache, weakness, abdominal cramping, nausea, blurred vision, convulsion, tremor, and coma. Carbofuran is highly toxic to birds, fish, and bees. The US EPA has banned any amount of Carbofuran from appearing on any food crops, and has announced that it will revoke all licenses for the product.

Carbofuran is being phased out in Australia, which is welcome, but it’s due to disuse rather than its toxicity.

So while the Greens will support any measure that results in less of these substances being used, the Government really needs to be having a close look at our chemical regulation to work out how we can be so out of step with the rest of the world that they won’t accept our exports unless we take the steps proposed in this bill.