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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1852

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:40): There is much validity in calling on the Labor government to instruct the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service to increase the testing of imported juice concentrate to ensure Carbendazim is not present at levels which place public health at risk. It is expected that the chemical may be banned for use in oranges in Australia—it is currently suspended—but still available for other crops such as almonds. Labor is not putting due process in place in regard to inspections and must become more diligent about testing. In the 2009-10 budget, Labor slashed cargo-screening resources at ports and airports by $58.1 million. This led to 4.7 million fewer air cargo consignments being inspected each year and 2,150 fewer vessels being boarded on arrival.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has backflipped on its decision to ban the import of Carbendazim laced Brazilian orange juice concentrate. This organisation must gets its act together and send a clear message to the public. Carbendazim is a fungicide used in many countries to control fungal diseases in some crops, including fruit trees. Food Standards Australia New Zealand originally announced it would ban the import of juice concentrate where trace elements of Carbendazim were present. However, it has since reversed that decision, understandably angering Riverina Citrus in my electorate. What sort of message does this send to the average shopper looking to buy fruit juice? Riverina Citrus had previously called on Australian authorities to act to protect consumers following the discovery of the fungicide in Brazilian juice products imported into the United States, and it publicly stated support when FSANZ put the ban in place.

Concerns have been raised in Australia after reports from the United States that authorities had suspended some imports after trace amounts of Carbendazim had been found in orange juice imported from Brazil. The levels detected in the US are well below the internationally accepted level for Carbendazim permitted in oranges and significantly below the US human health and safety level. Even though the levels detected to date are very low and considered safe, the US is testing for Carbendazim because the chemical is not allowed to be used on orange crops in the US.

A strong biosecurity and quarantine system is critical to Australia's rural and regional industries, jobs and consumers and our natural heritage. The 2008 $1.7 million Beale review into Australia's quarantine and biosecurity systems found that our border defences are significantly under-resourced, putting Australia's economy, people and environment at significant risk. Consumers are unsure what they are buying, and this should be paramount. We should be mindful of what consumers are buying and mindful of the fact that they need to be safe and secure in the knowledge that what they are buying does not contain this trace element. According to the Land newspaper, people who are buying Australian juice labelled as 'Australian Made' could be drinking a product consisting of 70 to 80 per cent Brazilian concentrate. Studies have found that Carbendazim could cause infertility and testicular damage. Carbendazim was withdrawn from use in the Australian industry more than two years ago.

It is important that Australian law protects Australia from pests and diseases carried by overseas animals, plants and products and ensures that imported product meets stringent health standards. The Labor government's under-resourcing is putting this at risk. In July last year the ban on imported apples was lifted, and the Australian apple industry has been left in jeopardy through the flooding of local markets with products from overseas that potentially do not adequately address the health risk. Foreign apples should only be allowed if they are free from pests and diseases, especially fire blight. That decision has the potential to cripple areas such as Batlow and Tumut, in my electorate of Riverina, the economies of which rely heavily on apples. This decision with the juice concentrate of oranges is just the same as that example. It is neither right nor fair from a government that says it has regional Australia's interests at heart.

But it is not just apples where Labor has weakened the biosecurity and quarantine measures. The Asian bee has threatened the industry over the past 20 years and now threatens to affect everyone in the honey industry and everyone in Australia. Frank Battistel, the Riverina Citrus chairman, summed it up when he said:

We wonder when someone is actually going to stand up for the Australian people—growers and consumers—and how it is that the big money of the processing industry can again win out over what is fair, what is right and what the public are demanding.