Agchem regulatory system must target real risk

    23 July 2013

    Tuesday 23 July 2013 (Canberra) – The peak industry organisation for the agricultural chemical sector is calling for issues outlined in yesterday’s Four Corners program to be addressed in the most effective, targeted way possible.

    “The heart-wrenching stories of the former government workers in the 1960s and 1970s highlight how important it is to have tight control of use laws, and quality products used only in accordance with their registration,” Matthew Cossey, CEO of CropLife Australia said today.

    “This is a very serious matter, and it is vital that any response addresses the actual shortcomings of the regulatory system. The safe use of chemicals manufactured to the highest standards is core to the business of CropLife members. CropLife has been advocating for improvements to the national system for regulation of agricultural chemicals for many years. There are real issues that need attention, but we must be very clear about what those issues are.

    “In addressing the concerns raised yesterday, and raised on a number of occasions by CropLife and its members, it is important to recognise that Australia has an effective, robust, rigorous and scientific chemical registration system which requires all chemical products to demonstrate their health and environmental safety before they can be registered for use in Australia. There were no issues raised in yesterday’s program that indicate a problem with Australia’s chemical registration system.

    “While CropLife often criticises the regulator, it is important to recognise that the APVMA is a scientifically and technically competent authority that is globally recognised for protecting the health and safety of the Australian community. It is also important for regulatory systems to develop and improve, and it would be unacceptable if any response to this program failed to address the real issues in favour of a short term solution.

    “We have just seen the enactment of a new legislative framework for agricultural chemicals that dramatically increases the burden for chemical registrants. The smooth implementation of this new system; ensuring that the regulator is as efficient and responsive as possible should be the key point of focus from government. This will be best achieved by ensuring that resources and effort are target at the highest risk. The single most important element of an effective regulatory system is an efficient, responsive regulator. This is something that CropLife has been advocating for many years.

    “Beyond this new federal framework, the regulatory gaps highlighted in the program lie in the lack of a nationally harmonised system of control of use laws to protect farm workers, and in the resourcing of the Ag Quality Assurance scheme, which is empowered to test chemical products for dangerous contaminants. The whole of industry, government and the regulator need to recommit to ensuring the quality of all agricultural chemical products and their safe and responsible use.

    “This said, it is crucial that we recognise how much safety measures, manufacturing standards and control of use laws have improved since the 1970s. It is also important that discussion on this issue recognises the distinction between the unacceptable contamination of substandard chemical product, which must be rectified, and the use of quality, tested product from reputable suppliers, which is fundamental to Australian agriculture.

    “The regulator should be sufficiently resourced to enable pursuit of pesticide manufacturers and importers who do not comply with the law. A regulator that only regulates the legitimate industry is not an effective allocation of resources. Beyond this, consistent state laws on licensing, training, access, use and record keeping are vital for the protection of farmers and other chemical users.

    “CropLife member companies follow a strict code of conduct which requires commitment to high standards of safety, stewardship and product quality. CropLife members must also comply with the United Nations International Code of Conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides and participate in industry stewardship activities including drumMUSTER and ChemClear® to ensure that the health and environmental risk from unwanted products and empty containers are responsibly managed. It is time the laws were improved to ensure that all agricultural chemicals sold in Australia are legitimate, high quality, and used safely, for the sake of farmers, consumers, the environment and the longevity of this important industry,” concluded Mr Cossey.

    Contact: Jessica Lee (Manager – Public Affairs)  Ph: 02 6230 6399  Mob: 0410 491 261