Fears of blind eye on toxic farming chemicals

The Abbott government is planning to axe a scheme designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals from food and other agriculture production, outraging consumer and environmental groups.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce wants to allow farmers to continue using certain chemicals that are banned in the United States, the European Union and Canada and have never been tested to see if they meet current Australian safety standards.

National Toxics Network co-ordinator Jo Immig said the Coalition was choosing corporate and farming interests over the health of Australians.

"The chemical industry has spooked the farmers, and the farmers are opposing the scheme, and the government is planning to abandon it,'' she said. ''I believe public health is at risk.

"Over the years, as scientific standards have improved, older chemicals haven't undergone rigorous assessments. The US, EU and Canada have implemented re-registration schemes to make sure every chemical on the market is meeting today's scientific standard".

She said the farmers' claims about the financial burden imposed by the scheme had been exaggerated.

Advocacy group Choice says chemicals such as the insecticide trichlorfon and the miticide dicofol continue to be used on food crops despite them being banned by the EU because of ''environmental, human health and residues concerns''.

A scheme designed under the former Labor government to re-approve and re-register agricultural chemicals on the market was to begin in July. But Mr Joyce has signalled he would scotch it, introducing legislative amendments last month that will rid "duplicative and unnecessary red tape" burdening chemical users, especially farmers.

"As a result of these reforms farmers will have surety that access to chemicals with a history of safe and effective use will not be compromised by an unnecessary bureaucratic process," he said.

In a submission to the government, NSW Farmers welcomed the repeal, saying there would have been high compliance costs.

Choice said the current regulatory system was "ad hoc", and pointed to a government committee report issued last year that said "some chemicals used in Australia have never been assessed against modern standards and may have been in use for over 40 years".

Angela Cartwright from Choice, which has just launched a campaign, said the purpose of the scheme was not to stop the use of pesticides, but to ensure chemicals being used were safe for humans.

"We think it's critical that these products are properly tested to ensure they don't pose risks to consumers, farmers or the environment," she said.

World Wildlife Fund spokesman Nick Heath said the laws were there to protect Australians and all MPs should ensure they remained.

''Over 30 countries have a re-registration system [for old chemicals],'' he said. ''Australia should not slip back in its vigilance."

smh.com.au

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