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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2801

Senator REYNOLDS —Is the Minister for Justice and Consumers Affairs aware of recent food studies released by the Australian Consumers Association showing that Australian residue standards for some pesticides fall well below the world standard? Furthermore, the Australian Consumers Association claims that in at least 75 cases, where our standards are more stringent than the international equivalent, the Pesticides and Agricultural Chemicals Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council actually recommends lowering our current standards. Can the Minister assure the chamber that the National Food Authority standards will be set at a level at least equal with those set by the international standards body and, where we do have standards higher, that they will be maintained?

Senator TATE —Senator Reynolds raises a question which has been of great interest to the Senate, particularly in the discussions relating to the statute setting up the National Food Authority. During those deliberations it was made very, very clear indeed that there would be no lowering of the Australian standard in order to carry out some sort of theoretical harmonisation with international standards so far as the quality of food available in the Australian marketplace is concerned.

  The various levels of the matters to which the National Food Authority has to have regard have as their main criterion the question of the health and safety aspects of the food concerned. That will always remain the primary, pre-eminent criterion against which all other changes will be judged and assessed. I can assure Senator Reynolds that if there were any jeopardy to Australian food standards and the health of food available in the Australian marketplace as a result of some international standard being adopted which was apparently lower than the Australian standard, that would not be pursued because of the obvious detriment to Australian health that might be involved.   The sorts of assurances Senator Reynolds has sought can be given, and if anything further needs to be added to the answer I will seek the advice of the relevant Minister.

Senator REYNOLDS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate the Minister's response, but there seems to have been no response in regard to the Australian Consumers Association. Are its claims wrong? If so, should we reassure people who have read these reports that they are in fact wrong, or should the Australian Consumers Association actually meet with the Pesticides and Agricultural Chemicals Committee to resolve their differences?

Senator TATE —Of course it would be professionally responsible for the Australian Consumers Association to deal with the relevant body and make a submission in the proper form if it still has misgivings and concerns. But these sorts of issues were dealt with exhaustively, particularly in the Senate committee established to examine the statutory charter that was given by this Parliament to the National Food Authority recently. The sorts of concerns that the Australian Consumers Association have raised this time are really able to be answered in terms of the statute to which I refer.