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The future of farm chemical management for farm, food and fibre safety: managing the risks while maintaining the farm, address to ChemCert Australia's National Forum 2002, Old Parliament House, Canberra.

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SENATOR THE HON. IAN MACDONALD Minister for Forestry and Conservation


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Address to

ChemCert Australia's National Forum 2002

The Future of Farm Chemical Management for Farm, Food and Fibre Safety: Managing the Risks while Maintaining the Farm

Old Parliament House, Canberra, 17 September 2002 Introduction

Well, thanks very much, Wayne Cornish, the Chairman of the ChemCert organisation; to other distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen.

Senator Troeth’s discomfort at the moment is my good fortune, and I’m delighted to be with you at this very, very important conference.

I said to Senator Troeth this morning that she obviously needs some chemicals to help her through her problem. She was offended to think I might have been talking about veterinary chemicals. I can say that because Senator Troeth is a very good friend of mine, and an excellent Parliamentary Secretary, who administers this area of the Commonwealth department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries very well,and I join with you in wishing her a speedy recovery.

This forum, as I understand it, marks another important stage in the organisation's development since its establishment in the 1990s.

I wanted to today address the forum’s theme The Future of Farm Chemical Management for Farm, Food and Fire Safety — Managing the Risks While Maintaining the Farm. A very appropriate theme and one that I’m sure you’ll develop very well over the next couple of days.

There are many factors that will have an impact on farm chemical management and there are many things that will have the potential to bring about major changes.

As Wayne mentioned, I come from north Queensland. I live in the lower Burdekin district, which is a very significant sugar growing area, and I’ve spent all of my life associated indirectly with farm chemicals and the good things they produce, and the bad things that can sometimes happen from indiscriminate usage of farm chemicals. So I am particularly interested, as I know Senator Troeth is, to observe and learn from the results of your forum over the next couple of days.

These farm chemical management regimes and the potential to bring out major changes will impact on us all in Australia and I’m sure there’s agreement for example that genetically modified organisms will probably have a significant effect on farm chemical use.

The first question for me, though, is — which is the most likely of the possible scenarios that tomorrow’s ‘great GMO debate’ will highlight?

I understand that will be a very interesting exercise.

The second question that I think is important is — what other changes in technology and methodology will take place over the next few years?

Obviously, I can’t predict the future, but I am certain that Australia will continue to base the management of farm chemicals on the strong foundation that we have laid in this country.

Australia has a number of strengths that will enable us to continue to take advantage of the benefits that farm chemicals offer, while responsibly managing the risks.

We have a strong and effective regulatory framework for farm chemicals, a framework that is underpinned and guided by a partnership between the States, Territories and the Commonwealth.

We also have a world-class national registration body, the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, one of your major sponsors, and this authority conducts rigorous scientific assessments of new chemicals and has a programme dedicated to reviewing existing chemicals.

On the world stage, Australia’s interests are effectively represented internationally through our participation in international forums, like Codex or the OECD, where our technical competence is well recognised. Australia’s technical competence is in this area as in so many areas these days well recognised internationally.

At the other end, let’s not forget the role that the National Residue Survey has, which is the unit, of course which monitors chemical residues and environmental contaminants in the products of participating industries.

A number of industry sectors have research and development corporations that can undertake research on specific issues, including those related to farm chemicals, and which can contribute in other ways.

The Grains and Cotton Research and Development Corporations recently commissioned ChemCert to develop specialist courses for cotton and grain production, and I’m pleased to say these courses are now available.

We have training organisations, like ChemCert, that can equip farm chemical users with the knowledge and competence they need to properly manage the chemicals and their safe use.

And here, I must add, it’s especially gratifying that the Australian Quality Training Framework recognises training like this.

The foundation’s different components would be incomplete if I didn’t recognise the commitment of the majority of chemical users to responsible chemical management. And I think that responsible use has been evident for some years and I know users are always looking for ways that they can achieve better and safer use of chemicals.

There’s no better demonstration of this than the adoption of the environmental management systems by users, and food safety and quality systems, and the participation in the training courses that ChemCert and other organisations do provide.

This last point is important, ladies and gentlemen, because future farm chemical management will rely even more heavily on proper training.

There’s no doubt that the knowledge base on chemicals and their management will continue to expand.

And that will bring with it a corresponding responsibility for everyone involved in chemicals — including those who apply them — to be well informed and able to respond appropriately to relevant developments.

I’ve already mentioned the strong partnership at all levels of Government on matters relating to farm chemicals. The Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments share responsibility for regulation of farm chemicals as they do on many other primary industries, food safety and natural resource management and environmental issues.

In the case of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, we have formalised this in the inter-Governmental agreement that established the NRA and formed the National Registration Scheme.

Following a review last year by the Council of Australian Governments (COAGS), the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Policy Committee (AVCPC) continues to function under the newly created Primary Industry Ministerial Council and the Primary Industry Standing Committee. Both Senator Troeth and I, and Mr Truss of course, are engaged in that Ministerial Council on behalf of the Commonwealth and we meet at least once a year with all the State Primary Industries Ministers.

The new ministerial council arrangements allow better consideration of natural resource management matters under a separate ministerial council, the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on which we also sit.

The new arrangements recognise the importance of cooperation between the two Councils and their supporting committees to promote the integration of the primary industry and production, and the conservation agendas. And that’s of course so very important these days.

This is certainly the case with farm chemicals, where sustainable use is such a high priority.

The Primary Industries Standing Committee, which supports the Ministerial Council, has established four high-level advisory committees to help it manage its agenda, and provide leadership and strategic direction to its supporting committees.

One of them, the Primary Industries Health Committee, now manages animal, plant and fish health, agricultural and veterinary chemicals, quarantine and related matters on behalf of the Standing Committee.

And it also supports the development and promotion of sustainable, innovative and profitable agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, food and forestry industries.

The Agricultural Veterinary Chemicals Policy Committee’s work is directly relevant to the issues that you’re considering at this forum.

Its role is to improve our strategic approach to developing and implementing national policies to manage agricultural and veterinary chemicals in Australia. And as a first step, the new AVCPC undertook a risk analysis based on key issues identified by the National Strategy for the Management of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, which was published in 1998.

The process enabled that committee to develop a risk management framework for the development of policies and strategies ensuring the continued effectiveness of Australia’s agvet chemical management system.

The AVCPC risk management framework addresses the risks agvet chemical use presents to human health and to the environment. And it also considers potential risks that may affect the benefits that agvet chemicals bring to industry and the community, for example, very importantly the risks to trade.

During the next two years, that committee will concentrate on four priority projects.

During the next two years that committee will concentrate on four primary projects; the first and second projects will deal with appropriate chemical access and domestic and international market access. The other two projects focus on agvet chemical assisted performance and agvet chemical user awareness and trade.

The first project will examine the factors that affect access to agvet chemicals within Australia and will ensure that access is appropriate and that it achieves the maximum economic and community benefits. It will also address chemical management and product stewardship given their role in ensuring the access to existing chemicals is maintained.

The domestic and international market access project will protect and boost market access to Australian agriculture and produce by addressing existing and potential agvet chemical trade issues. Agvet chemical residue and contaminate issues are of course a very high priority.

AVCPC recognises that residues are closely monitored and residue incidents well managed in a number of commodities.

However, this project will examine how to implement a universal approach to anticipating and managing agvet chemical residue issues.

The project will also consider ways to encourage the use of ‘softer’ chemicals, and alternatives to chemicals, to treat pests and diseases.

The agricultural and veterinary chemical system performance project will establish a series of reportable performance indicators to judge the effectiveness of Australia’s management systems.

And the last project is one that wouls specially interest training providers such as ChemCert.

The agvet chemical user awareness and training project recognises the importance of ensuring the proper use and handling of chemicals.

AVCPC has established a small working group to develop strategies to ensure all Agvet chemical users, handlers, resellers and advisers are aware of the health, environmental and trade risks posed by chemical use, and understand the importance of using chemicals properly to manage those risks.

The committee will work closely with Agvet chemical training providers, the NRA, industry groups, Avcare and other stakeholders as necessary during the project.

The AVCPC has identified these four areas as its priority for the next two years.

It must be remembered, however, that the committee will undertake this work program

in tandem with ongoing activities it initiated earlier, or those that arose in response to other processes, such as the National Competition Policy Review of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical legislation.

The one activity that’s nearing completion concerns an issue of relevance to the panel session on managing risk on the farm.

This issue, which has been the subject of growing Government, industry and community concern, is the off-targeted movement of agricultural chemicals, especially spray drift from chemical spraying.

It poses some potential public health, trade and environment risks, and does need managing in a way that does not have a disproportionate effect on industry competitors.

All agricultural chemical users must appreciate the impacts of chemical spraying on the many stakeholders involved and take appropriate steps to reduce the spray drift.

As I say coming from a cane growing area where aerial spraying is very, very important and prevalent I can well understand the need to take those appropriate steps to reduce spray drift.

I know there have been great advances in recent years but we can always do better.

When I say that all users of course I do mean everyone, from farmers doing their own spraying as well as contract ground and arial applicators and operators to Government agencies undertaking chemical control activities.

The Primary Industries Standing Committee will soon be publishing a single simple to understand document, I often say they have to be simple to understand for Ministers to actually publish, it makes it easier for us to know what we’re talking about, but it will also help industry and that publication will be, as I say, a simple to understand document that draws together the latest scientific and technical information on the causes of chemical spray drift and the ways to reduce it.

The AVCPC developed the document called Spray drift management; Principle strategies and supporting information with the expert assistance of Nicholas Woods from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Pesticide Application and Safety. He was the Consultant engaged on the project. I understand he’s with us today; he’s attending the forum and will take part in one of tomorrow’s workshops.

To make it easier to use this document, information is in two parts; the first part Principles and Strategies will provide a set of general principles governing spray drift management and a number of strategies for achieving each of them.

The second part Supporting Information will contain more detailed information that chemical users or individual primary industry sector operators can use to develop a better understanding of the principles that apply to their situation.

We should make it clear that the document is not a Code of Practice nor is it intended to be used as such, in other words it won’t be something that a farmer for instance can put in his pocket and use every day.

The document will assist chemical users or individual primary industry sectors to develop spray drift management strategies suited to their particular circumstances.

Industry sectors, for example, can select the principles and strategies appropriate to their enterprises and tailor them into sector or region specific codes of practice.

And it will be a useful tool for organisations such as ChemCert and other training providers.

They will be able to use it to develop education and training programs for chemical users to help them make better decisions about chemical spray applications. It will also be a handy reference for policymakers, especially for making decisions on regulatory and other approaches to managing spray drift risks.

In short, when it’s published, the Spray Drift Management: Principles, Strategies and Supporting Information booklet will prove to be a comprehensive, user-friendly reference for our agricultural industries, Governments and chemical training providers.

And, as such, it will make a very important contribution to the effectiveness of Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemical management system.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to finish by commending Chemcert for the challenging and thought provoking agenda it has set up for this forum. I also want to congratulate Chemcert and Wayne particularly, for the good work that that organization does.

I know Wayne puts his heart and soul and everything else into this. I guess he’s got plenty of spare time when he’s not doing a million other things.

But it is very important that this organization continues to operate and operate well as it does and I congratulate Wayne and his committee on the organization and the good work that they do generally but also in their initiative in organising this first conference along these themes.

The forum that you have before you today and tomorrow will delineate the many interlinked goals and themes which surface in any debate about farm chemicals and I know there are a lot of passionate views held on either side of any debate in this area.

These interlinked goals and themes will include topics like sustainable development, meeting consumer expectations on safety and sustainability, and ensuring the safety of everyone who uses these chemicals. And of course, there’s producing food and fibre in a way that makes us stronger competitors in world markets and that’s always very important for Australia.

It’s becoming more and more important as the world gets smaller and our international competitors improve, hopefully though, not at the same rate of improvement as we have in Australia.

This forum will also give you the chance to examine the existing mechanisms to achieve these goals and a range of options for the future.

While I’m on this subject I see that the final session of the forum is something where you’ll develop what’s called a Call to Action paper. Now that will be very, very important for the industry, certainly very important for the Government and the community.

And can I encourage all workshop participants to be far sighted and clear sighted when you develop this paper because it is one that I know Senator Troeth, who has Ministerial responsibility for this area, is very much looking forward to reading when it’s completed. It’s something all of us in Government would be very interested in to bring together all the issues that need to be addressed in the use of farm chemicals.

Once again ladies and gentlemen welcome to this forum.

For those of you not from the National Capital, can I tell you this is an atypical day in the National Capital. I hope your conference does allow those of you who aren’t from here the opportunity to look around this beautiful city. I think it’s a National Capital of which we as Australians can be very proud and I’m sure it will fine up to allow you a little bit of time to look around if you can squeeze some time in between conference sessions.

Again, thanks very much for having me here and congratulations on the work you all do on this important aspect of Australia’s policy.


Last updated 25 September 2002 URL: Commonwealth of Australia 2002