The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill has just passed the Senate and is a significant win for the environment, because it will ensure that many of the chemicals that were grandfathered into the scheme without re-testing will finally be re-registered against today's scientific standards.
The Bill could have been strengthened by adding a definition of ‘chemicals that pose an unmanageable risk' but there was no appetite from the Government or the Opposition to strengthen the legislation in this way. Despite the lack of definition, the Greens still welcome the legislation as it attempts to address serious deficiencies in the pesticide regulatory system and closes some of the loopholes that agricultural companies have used to extend registration on chemicals that have been banned for many years in many other countries.
During the debate, the Opposition have tried to argue that all chemicals and products are already registered so why should they be registered again? But this completely misses the point - it's like saying I registered my car in 1972 so I should never have to register it again, despite the fact that it's blowing pollution out the exhaust, has no seatbelts and is full of rust.
The Opposition also denied the Australian Greens leave to table a letter from the Minister explaining how the regulations would ensure that the most dangerous chemicals will be registered. Despite this, the Australian Greens expect that the Australian Government will focus on tackling the most dangerous chemicals still being used in Australia.
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill - Speech Notes
Australians should have timely access to the safest and smartest methods and chemistries available for pest management in their homes, gardens, parks, child-care centres, schools, golf courses, restaurants, businesses and, in the production the nation's food.
However, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) - has never had the legislative triggers it needs to systematically review and quickly remove highly hazardous and unmanageable pesticides from the market, making way for safer pesticides.
Australia still allows highly hazardous pesticides banned in other countries. It permits pesticides to be used on our food that are known to cause cancer and mutations. It allows pesticides that cause reproductive damage and pesticides that are long-lived in the environment and build up in wildlife where they cause damage.
The APVMA was one of the last regulators in the world to recognise that the insecticide endosulfan was unmanageable, despite all the scientific evidence clearly laid before it. Endosulfan is now listed on the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants and is banned globally. It will take years before its residues disappear from our bodies and the environment.
APVMA has an ad hoc approach to chemical review. There's no rationale in what ends up on the chemical review list. It's hit and miss. They aren't necessarily focusing their regulatory effort on the pesticides of greatest risk. This is something the Government's proposed re-approval and re-registration aims to address.
The legislation before us proposes reforms that will address one of the loopholes that's been exploited by chemical companies for years.
Australia currently has approximately 9,900 separate AgVet chemical products registered. Each one of these products contains at least one or more of around 1, 883 approved active constituents.
The vast majority of these active constituents were grandfathered into the national registration scheme, adopted in 1995, and are now likely to be associated with more than 9,440 of the 9,900 currently registered products, representing around 95% of products currently on the market.
What this means in reality is that there are potentially a lot of pesticide products currently being used that have never been thoroughly assessed against contemporary health and environmental standards. It's likely there are products that have inadequate risk management instructions, or worse, they are unmanageable chemicals that shouldn't be used at all.
The Australian Greens think this is totally unacceptable. Most stakeholders agree this is totally unacceptable.
Although this Bill does not meet all our expectations, it does help to bring Australia more into line with comparable jurisdictions like the USA, Canada and EU, which all have re-registration processes to systematically review chemicals and products on the market to ensure they meet contemporary standards for manufacturing and safety.
These countries have been successfully operating pesticide re-registration schemes and without wide scale collapse of industry. They still have plenty of pesticides available and agriculture continues.
With this legislation the Government has finally acted on a long overdue problem with the introduction of a scheme for the re-approval and re-registration. This scheme has been specifically designed for Australian circumstances, taking into account concerns raised by various stakeholders, such as the size of the Australian market and different climatic conditions.
And still the Opposition is implacably opposed to it and won't support the Bill. Speech after speech in the other place talks about the re-approval and re-registration scheme as if it will be the death knell for agriculture as we know it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There's a lot of misrepresentation and fear- mongering going on, of course, but do the Opposition really want farmers to use out-dated and dangerous chemicals that could give them cancer and impact their own children?
The Member for Dawson called the re-registration scheme ‘an act of agricultural sabotage', claiming that all chemicals and products are already registered so why should they be registered again? He's completely missing the point.
That's like saying I registered my car in 1972 so I should never have to register it again, despite the fact that it's blowing pollution out the exhaust, has no seatbelts and is full of rust.
Clearly, over time standards change, more evidence demonstrates the dangers of existing products, so there's a need to make sure that products continue to comply with up-to-date standards. Pesticide products are no different. They are manufactured products and should comply with the safety standards of the day.
There are plenty of examples of how wrong regulators have been with respect to the safety of pesticides. We need to be sure we don't keep repeating the same mistakes. The majority of chemicals now listed on the Stockholm Convention, for instance, were once widely used pesticides in Australia, and the world.
We used to wash children's hair for head lice with lindane and heptachlor was flooded under homes to prevent termites! I campaigned on this in the 1980's, in fact.
After rigorous and independent scientific assessment, these pesticides are now all considered pollutants of global concern. Their residues are found in women's breast milk and are passed onto the next generation, a situation that is truly outrageous by anyone's standards. We'll be dealing with the impacts of these pesticide residues in our bodies and environment for many years to come.
Despite the Government's promise to the Australian community that reforms would put the health of the community and environment as the first priority, the Bill stops short of making sure highly hazardous and unmanageable pesticides will be quickly removed from the market.
The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill specifies in Division I, 1A, Implementing the Code that:
(2) This Code is to be implemented in a manner that:
(d) recognises that the use of chemical products that pose unmanageable risks to the health and safety of human beings, animals and the environment is not appropriate in Australia; and
Chemical products that pose unmanageable risks to people and the environment should have no place in Australia, and the recognition of this in the Object is welcomed. The continued registration of unmanageable pesticides sends the wrong message to the marketplace, users of chemicals and export markets about the integrity and intent of Australia's regulatory system.
But there is no definition for chemical products that pose unmanageable risks in the Bill or draft Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Regulation 2012.
There are no clauses to operationalise this Object. The Greens believe that the legislation should have ensured the recognition of chemical products that pose unmanageable risks becomes part of the safety criteria in the legislation.
Under the current proposal for the re-registration scheme, a highly hazardous pesticide could be re-registered for 7 years. There's a missing category of risk that hasn't been accounted for - very high priority pesticides.
The Greens would have preferred to include an amendment which provides a definition for chemical products that pose unmanageable risks based on criteria developed at the 2008 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Joint Meeting on Pesticide Management (JMPM).
That meeting noted that effective risk reduction from highly hazardous pesticides is mainly carried out at the national level, and national governments have the prime responsibility in this respect and recommended that national governments ensure that at least the following risk reduction measures for highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) are taken into account:
• Identify highly hazardous pesticides with help of the criteria;
• Review the need for the use of highly hazardous pesticides while simultaneously reviewing use conditions, mitigation measures and comparative risk assessment;
• Where a specific need is identified for a highly hazardous pesticides and no viable alternatives are available, governments should be advised to take all the necessary precautions, mitigation measures and apply restrictions, that may include the use only under certain conditions or by specifically certified users, severe restrictions, or a possible phase-out;
• Promote the use of alternative pest management strategies and, in case they are not available, promote research for development of alternative strategies;
• Promote the substitution principle for highly hazardous pesticides
• Ensure the provision of sufficient advice and information to users.
Although it would have been preferable to introduce further amendments to this Bill there was no appetite from the Government or the Opposition for this, so I seek leave to table a letter from the Government outlining how the APVMA's risk framework, which will be introduced as a regulation, will ensure that the most unmanageable chemicals will be prioritised for re-assessment.
The fact remains that without a definition for unmanageable pesticides in the legislation and clauses which specify a process for regulating unmanageable pesticides, the APVMA will not necessarily be able to ensure that these chemicals are efficiently removed from the market.
Despite the lack of definition, the Greens still welcome the legislation as it attempts to address serious deficiencies in the pesticide regulatory system. We do still urge the Government to ensure the legislation actually does what it is supposed to do - that is, review chemicals that are long overdue for reassessment, remove dangerous chemicals from the marketplace and speed up the introduction of safer products.