Response to recent misleading article on agricultural chemical monitoring by the Guardian Australia

    3 May 2023

    It is said that the best lies are rooted in truth. And, in the case of the Guardian article “Australia fails to adequately monitor effect of agricultural chemicals in humans, report finds”, this certainly rings true.

    This article demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of agricultural chemical regulation in Australia and distorts the premise of the report Sources of AgVet Data (Monitoring) in Australia referenced and the data contained within it. The journalist Anne Davies has used this report, and quotes contained in it, completely out-of-context to support a pre-determined and sensationalised anti-chemistry narrative which has been comprehensively refuted by public scientific and academic data.

    In 2022, Australian Environmental Agency PTY Ltd (AEAPL) and Crop Protection Australia were commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry to assist the Department in investigating ways to better monitor and provide assurance that the controls on agvet chemical products are effective and not leading to poor environmental or human health outcomes. Among other recommendations, the report compiles and evaluate sources of food and environmental monitoring for pesticides in Australia. It is clear from the Guardian article that the journalist did not contact the report authors as the report was not intended to investigate human health or environmental outcomes, as suggested. These are undertaken separately and comprehensively through APVMA assessments during registration and review.

    The Guardian article insists that “…The federal government has no suitable data source for monitoring the effect of agricultural and veterinary chemicals on humans”, even though this was not at all within the remit of the report. The report, however, confirms that there are indeed mechanisms in place to monitor and ensure that the use of these crop protection products is consistent with the legally binding requirements specified on pesticide labels. For each new active constituent, product labels are considered based on hundreds of comprehensive environmental and toxicological studies used by the APVMA during the risk assessment process, and again during reconsideration or review of agvet chemicals – not ‘guesswork’.

    The residues monitoring data referenced in the report were specifically designed to test adherence to label conditions. These were identified as comprehensive and demonstrate that agvet chemicals are overwhelmingly used safely, in accordance with label requirements, indicating that exposure to humans is within safety parameters evaluated and specified by the APVMA and FSANZ.

    The Guardian article also claims that “…there are also no national sources of data on pesticides in groundwater, urban stormwater, drinking water, soil, or in wildlife”. This however ignores the fact that in Australia, state and territory governments are responsible for controlling the use of pesticides beyond the point of retail sale and the terms of reference for this report were to catalogue and evaluate the various sources.

    The report confirms not only does this monitoring occur, but that the largest number of data sources are for environmental monitoring. While they vary in scope and timeframe, they were substantially and significantly reliable, relevant and representative. The results from the monitoring schemes do not indicate the need for heightened surveillance.

    The report did however highlight gaps in surveillance, and deficiencies in reporting mechanisms. Most of the recommendations that follow, discuss means of augmenting and integrating these data. It highlights the lack of national harmonisation of the control of use of agvet chemicals and reflects the fractious and inconsistent nature of state-based monitoring. As such, integration and harmonisation of the use of agvet chemicals should be prioritised. This has been a position of CropLife and other partner farming organisations for many years.

    It is concerning that Ms Davies continues to disregard journalistic standards of impartiality, but it’s not surprising. It appears the Guardian editorial team continue to encourage sensationalised anti-chemistry reporting which does a disservice to Guardian readers and the credibility of the publication.

    Matthew Cossey

    Chief Executive Officer