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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1853

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (20:45): I am pleased to speak to this motion, brought by the member for Barker. As the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of fruit growers, I understand very well both the importance of strong and effective regulation when it comes to the importation of fruit and fruit products and the importance of quarantine and food standard regulations which err on the side of proper protection—the importation of apples from fire blight affected countries springs to mind—while nevertheless not unreasonably impeding free and fair trade between countries.

Australia is a very substantial net exporter of food and so of course we rely on the fair and reasonable assessment and regulation of our food products in other countries in order to maintain and expand our food markets. I know that Australian producers happily accept the legitimate scrutiny of our agricultural products. They do so with little fear because the quality and standards of our food production are generally exceptional, but, where unreasonable barriers are put on the export of Australian food, there are very serious and damaging consequences. It makes sense that we set our import restrictions with this in mind.

The existing maximum residue limit, MRL, of Carbendazim, the active ingredient in a fungicide used to treat citrus trees, is 10 parts per million, and the highest recorded presence of Carbendazim is only 0.1 part per million. That is the case even though we import more than 50 per cent of the Australian orange juice industry's requirement for concentrate.

Australia's MRL is the same that applies in Canada and it is set at a level where a 70-kilogram adult would need to drink 140 litres of affected orange juice before there would be any health effect. That of course does not mean that the current MRL is sacrosanct or beyond review, and indeed I understand that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, APVMA, following a review that commenced in 2007, did signal at the end of last year its intention to remove the MRL for Carbendazim residue in citrus fruits. But members and the wider public need to understand that the APVMA position is triggered by its consideration of the occupational health and safety aspects of the use of Carbendazim in the Australian domestic production process and not by any consideration of the health effects of consuming tiny amounts of that chemical. It is precisely because the APVMA determination has not been triggered by reference to the health effect of Carbendazim in food that Food Standards Australia New Zealand has asked that this proposed change to the MRL be subject to a further 12-month consultation period.

All this indicates that the regulation of Carbendazim as a potential contaminant is well in hand under Australia's framework of food standards and pesticide regulation. The involvement of AQIS in this task will continue to be shaped by appropriate advice and will occur in addition to the inspection and testing processes already in place through state and territory governments and industry monitoring. It is salient, I think, to also note for the benefit of the member for Barker that the reconsideration of how we limit the presence of Carbendazim is occurring under this government and that the MRL was not considered or reviewed at any stage while the coalition was in government.

I will finish by saying that I welcome the findings and analysis of the recent Blewett Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy and that I look forward to seeing the implementation of the majority of its recommendations. This is an area in which there is room for much greater transparency, with all the benefits this will deliver for Australian consumers, families and even food producers.

I have spoken previously about the fact that stronger requirements when it comes to the health and animal welfare claims of food labels will mean that consumers can buy food with greater confidence and greater discretion and that producers who choose the highest standards of animal welfare in their production of food like eggs and pork will then have the higher product value of that choice protected by labelling laws that prevent the cynical misuse of labels like 'free range'.

In any case, I thank the member for Barker for bringing the motion we have discussed tonight. I do not believe there is any significant issue with the safe and rigorous regulation of Carbendazim in Australia. I am confident that our regulatory authorities are giving proper consideration to this issue.

Debate adjourned.