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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3474

Mr BUTLER (Parliamentary Secretary for Health) (9:14 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am very pleased today to be introducing the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Amendment Bill 2010 which implements a reform agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments on 3 July 2008—one of the early harvest reforms.

This amendment reflects the government’s strong commitment to microeconomic reform. In particular this amendment supports the goal of reducing the level of unnecessary or poorly designed regulation, with its resulting negative impact on Australian business.

While regulation is essential for the proper functioning of society and the economy, the challenge for government is to deliver effective and efficient regulation. In doing this, we must ensure that the regulation is effective in addressing an identified problem, and that it does this in a way that is not unduly onerous or duplicative in nature.

This amendment is part of a package of reforms being pursued by the government in relation to the regulation of chemicals and plastics, which followed a study by the Productivity Commission in 2008. The reforms have been agreed to by all states and territories through COAG, as part of the ‘Seamless National Economy’ reform agenda.

Specifically, this reform will address the delay and uncertainty for users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, who are typically primary producers, which results from overlapping regulatory responsibilities for setting maximum residue limits of chemicals allowed to be present in food.

Under the existing arrangements, both the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have a role in establishing safe limits for agricultural and veterinary chemical residues. The APVMA does this in the course of issuing registrations and permits for agricultural and veterinary chemical products. FSANZ, with its role in establishing and maintaining food standards, is responsible for incorporating maximum residue limits into the Food Standards Code.

Both regulatory systems are charged with the protection of public health and safety. Both rely on rigorous scientific assessment. But while both systems work well to ensure the safety of Australians, the overlapping regulatory responsibilities of the two agencies lead, in certain circumstances, to significant delays in decisions which mean a product might be grown on a farm but cannot be sold as a food for some months later.

This results from the time lag of nine to 12 months which occurs between when the APVMA establishes a maximum residue limit in relation to an agricultural or veterinary chemical product, and when FSANZ is able to effect a corresponding modification to the Food Standards Code.

Amendments to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991, designed to improve the operation of the food regulation system in response to consumer, industry and government feedback, were most recently made in 2007. These included changes intended to streamline the process for establishing maximum residue limits in the Food Standards Code. The amendments achieved a modest reduction in the timelines for modifying the Food Standards Code, through giving FSANZ early notice of any applications to the APVMA for chemical products that would be likely to result in a change to a maximum residue limit.

However, the 2007 amendments did not address the fundamental problem with setting maximum residue limits: the duplication of the scientific assessment and decision-making process, and the resulting significant time delay for primary producers.

The amendments I am presenting to the House today will fix this problem once and for all, by streamlining the decision-making process for determining maximum residue limits. Under the new system, if the APVMA makes a decision on setting a maximum residue limit, in the course of approving a chemical product registration or permit application, then the APVMA can use that decision to vary the maximum residue limits standard in the Food Standards Code. FSANZ, as the scientific experts in food safety, will retain responsibility for the dietary modelling that the APVMA will rely on to establish safe chemical residue limits.

These amendments will not jeopardise the protection of public health and safety in any way. In over 10 years of the system’s operation, there has never been an occasion where FSANZ has not adjusted the Food Standards Code in line with the maximum residue limits set by the APVMA. Instead, these amendments reduce duplicative administrative processes, and herald a new era of better integration of the roles of the two regulatory agencies.

All states and territories, which are partners in the joint food regulation system, have been consulted on the bill and are committed to ensuring the system continues to protect public health and safety, whilst also promoting improvements in regulatory efficiencies.

Debate (on motion by Mr Coulton) adjourned.