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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1963


Senator RICHARDSON —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware of a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 October 1985 in which an allergy doctor comments on the unknown effects of pesticides? Is it possible that blanket tests for all ages might indeed be unsatisfactory? Does the Minister consider that, as more doubts are raised, there is a case for a more thorough investigation of the whole area of pesticides and exposure to chemicals?


Senator GRIMES —Yes, I have seen the report in the Sydney Morning Herald referred to by Senator Richardson. The report describes cases of illness in people who have been exposed to pesticides and discusses the very real difficulty that the medical profession has in detecting whether a particular pesticide has in fact caused certain symptoms or illnesses. The simple fact is that there are no blanket tests for assessing such effects. The reference in the article to the existence of such tests was incorrect and quite inappropriate. The possible adverse reaction by humans to exposure to chemicals, including pesticides, is a matter for concern, and has been for some time. For this reason the Government established a toxicology unit in the Department of Health which, amongst other things, services three major committees of the National Health and Medical Research Council which regularly investigate a wide range of poisons, pesticides, agricultural chemicals and, in particular, food additives. The Council itself conducts annual surveys of the Australian food supply. The sur- veys, which analyse a wide variety of foodstuffs for heavy metals and pesticide residues, are proving to be a successful means of monitoring the safety of the food supply. These surveys will continue in 1986-87.

We intend to bring into the Parliament in 1986 legislation to establish a comprehensive chemicals notification and assessment scheme to expand the existing controls over chemicals such as pharmaceutical drugs. Once in place, the scheme will ensure that all chemicals currently in use in the community are subjected to surveillance and control. It will also exercise control over new chemicals so that before they can be introduced into use either in industry or the community generally they will be subject to stringent safety evaluation and, thereafter, their use will be monitored. This scheme constitutes a firm and positive response by the Government to its concern and the community's concern about a wide range of chemical substances and their potential effects on human health. We, with other comparable countries, believe that by careful surveillance, monitoring and testing we can keep under control what is obviously a tendency, and that is the production of diseases or the production of symptom groups by new chemicals which are, as Senator Richardson and others realise, being introduced every day for the benefit of mankind. We want to make sure that they do not cause too much of a hazard to mankind.