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Wednesday, 27 October 1993
Page: 2607

Senator BELL —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. My question is about Minister Crean's clean green food. The minister will recall that, in his answer to my question on notice about DDT on 1 September, he said that DDT usage had been prohibited since 1987. The minister should also be aware of the warnings given by Professor Ben Selinger, the chair of the National Registration Authority, regarding the alarming potential for DDT contamination of Australian beef. What action did the minister take to pay regard to these warnings? What action will the minister take in future to prevent a recurrence of the contamination of beef? Will the minister acknowledge that, regardless of the level of current usage, the effect of residual organochlorines is to directly affect the potential of Minister Crean's admirable push for clean green exports?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No doubt Senator Bell's question is prompted by the reports in the last day or so concerning DDT residues in cattle in Queensland. On that subject and the related more general matters to which he refers, I am advised as follows. In the Queensland case, the original violative carcass was from a mob of 46 animals sold last month at auction and sourced from a single property. Three Queensland export meat establishments purchased stock from that auction and have been required to trace and retain suspect product for further testing. Testing has indicated that meat from other animals in the mob contained residues of DDT.

  A small amount of meat suspected of having DDT residues may have been distributed for domestic consumption prior to regulatory action to retain and test all suspect product, but given the safety margins in establishing maximum residue level in foods, the risk to any consumer who may have consumed suspect meat is assessed as negligible. The property which produced the suspect animals has been quarantined and all appropriate measures taken to trace the suspect beef.

  As to the more general policy reaction of the government to these concerns which Senator Bell has been expressing for some time, we have had an integrated action plan in place for the control of organochlorine residues in beef for the past five years. Under this plan, more than 800,000 cattle have been tested and the organochlorine residue risk status of 130,000 properties has been determined. This plan has ensured that Australia's organochlorine residue violation rate has remained below 0.1 per cent for the past three years. Control measures for at risk properties continue to be administered by the states and territories, rather than the Commonwealth.

  This particular incident and the concerns that have been triggered by it should not be any cause for concern for overseas or domestic consumers. Systems are in place to minimise the risk of contaminated product entering the food chain. The adequacy of these programs remains under very close scrutiny by federal and state governments. The fact that contaminated product was detected, I guess, from another point of view, serves to demonstrate that adequate measures for consumer protection are in place.

  I have further information about the use of organochlorines in sugarcane and cattle tick dip sites, but perhaps I could incorporate that information into the record.

Senator Bell —Can't you read it?

Senator GARETH EVANS —If honourable senators are interested, I am perfectly happy to read it but I am running out of time. I seek leave to incorporate the rest of the answer in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The answer read as follows—

At the August 1993 meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers for Resource Management it was agreed that the use of heptachlor to treat funnel ants in sugar cane would be phased out by December 1994.

Land previously treated with heptachlor will continue to be used for sugar cane production but livestock grazing is not permitted on treated land or land adjacent to sugar can growing areas where the possibility of contamination may also exist.

This is a matter that is being addressed by the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency. I understand that an investigation was carried out by the NSW Government on action that might be taken to clean up these sites so as to minimise possible contamination of livestock and to ensure they do not adversely affect urban dwellings. I will seek additional detail on this issue from the Minister for the Environment.