Australia has a globally recognised and acclaimed regulatory system for agricultural chemicals.
While industry has for some years criticised the efficiency of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), the independence and technical competence of the Regulator has been beyond reproach.
These important tools for the nation’s farming sector are some of the most highly regulated products of any industry.
It is crucial that Australia maintains and protects its robust, independent, scientific and evidence-based regulatory system for agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines.
It is equally important that we undertake critical assessment to identify and implement system improvements.
Recently, there has been some misleading reporting in the rural media in relation to chemical contamination
A collection of recent reports from one media outlet, have overstated chemical contamination issues using unnamed and unverifiable sources.
While it’s not acceptable for any contaminated product that could cause any damage to crops to make it to market, such irresponsible reporting does not actually serve the interests of Australian agriculture.
Genuine fact-based critiquing of the APVMA’s highly regulated system of registration, compliance and enforcement on crop protection products is encouraged as it can lead to beneficial regulatory improvements.
But media publications that are instead more driven by wanting to spin a good yarn or engage in activist style campaigns do a great disservice to Australian farmers, exporters and the broader community.
More importantly, it undermines the foundation and argument for genuine improvement in the system.
The effective and targeted voluntary withdrawal and recall of non-compliant product resulting from retained batch sample analysis is an example of the Australian regulatory system for agricultural chemicals working properly.
The suggestion, as was reported in one media publication, that the voluntary withdrawal and recall process is somehow ‘self-regulation’ or a ‘quiet recall’ because it didn’t include a webpage notice, completely ignores or is deliberatively obtuse to the proactive nature of the process.
A process that proved its value to the regulatory system utilising strong communication channels, involving hundreds of direct notifications and an extraordinary effort to have product removed from point of sale.
Australian consumers and our trading partners should take confidence in Australia’s agricultural chemical regulatory system and its ability to withdraw and recall non-compliant product effectively and efficiently, on the rare occasion it is required.
They can also take confidence from the professionalism of our farmers and the effective and safe use of these products.
The reputable plant science industry goes above and beyond to ensure their products are safe, effective and consistent with the registered specifications of the product.
Exaggerating to create unnecessary concern only inappropriately diminishes and undermines the credibility of the regulatory system, which then impacts the Regulators’ ability to respond to serious offences.
It is important to understand the differences between voluntary and compulsory recalls and associated APVMA compliance provisions.
A voluntary withdrawal and recall is only able to be used when the APVMA determines there is no risk to the safety of human health and the environment from a product that does not comply with its registered specifications.
Compulsory recalls on the other hand, are for products that have been deemed to be unsafe.
The APVMA’s provisions for a compulsory recall include public notification, direct email notification, immediate cessation of sales and active return from users.
The APVMA’s compliance provisions for compulsory recalls are above and beyond the process undertaken by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand for the recall of contaminated food, and far beyond any measures available for consumer goods by the ACCC.
CropLife, as the national peak industry body for the plant science sector, continually seeks improvements, both in effectiveness and efficiency of the agricultural chemical regulatory system.
Our advocacy in 2012 seeking greater APVMA compliance and enforcement powers to tackle the problem of illegal and poor quality pesticides resulted in the APVMA gaining a substantial suite of new powers, the use of which have recently been on display.
Any adjustments to the regulatory system need to be undertaken on the basis of rational and fact-based assessment with the purpose of delivering better outcomes for Australian agriculture, which is something we have been doing for years and will continue to do in partnership with farmers and government.