House debates

Monday, 26 May 2014

Bills

Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014; Second Reading

7:04 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to support the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. This bill delivers on a coalition election commitment to remove the reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products stipulated in the 2013 amendment act as part of this government's program to affect $1 billion of red tape and green tape reductions. By extending the renewal of registrations from annually to up to seven years it will similarly reduce the administrative burden on the regulator. This 2014 amendment bill also further enhances the powers of the federal regulatory body—the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, APVMA—to ensure that all chemicals and drugs used in agriculture are safe to both animals and humans, with minimal adverse effects on the environment.

My electorate of O'Connor is vast and encompasses a variety of agricultural interests, so I stand here today representing the pastoralists of the goldfields, the grain growers of the wheat belt, the sheep and cattle farmers of WA's Great Southern, the grape growers of the acclaimed Mount Barker, Frankland and Pemberton wine regions, the dairy farmers of Walpole and Northcliffe, and the horticulturalists and truffle farmers surrounding Manjimup, the food bowl of Western Australia. Each and every one of these farmers has a right to maximise their productivity unimpeded by restricted access to necessary chemistries and veterinary medicines and at a price competitive with their overseas counterparts.

Each and every one of them gets out of bed every morning not only to provide for their families but to contribute to feeding and clothing our country and to contribute to Australia's GDP through the export of wine, food and fibre. Each and every one of these farmers also recognises the importance of the use, but not abuse, of these herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and vaccines. Our farmers are progressive, educated and cognisant of the risks of resistance when chemistries and medicines are misused. Our farmers are interested in sustainable outcomes, such that the next generation will be able to build on the legacy of this one. And I should know—I am one of those farmers. My farm has been in the family for 150 years and I intend for my children and their children to have the same opportunities as I had.

As a broadacre wheat and sheep farmer, I have seen the development of safe, affordable and effective chemicals revolutionise farming within my lifetime, with massive production, animal welfare and environmental benefits. When I began my farming career after completing university in 1988 the only weed control option available was multiple tilling of the soil. This involved countless hours of turning the soil, burning copious quantities of diesel fuel and breaking down the soil structure, leaving our most valuable asset susceptible to both wind and water erosion. In the late 1980s the advent of the chemical glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and marketed under the trade name Roundup, changed the crop establishment process irrevocably. Safe for use by the operator and safe for the environment, this broad-spectrum herbicide allowed farmers to dispense with countless tillage operations and sow their crops in a one-pass operation, which became known as minimum tillage. This system has evolved over the years into the no-till method, which involves minimal soil disturbance and, where possible, the retention of stubble.

I digress at this point to mention that this no-till system was substantially developed by farmers from my electorate, notably Mr Ray Harrington, Darkan farmer and West Arthur Shire President, who was recognised in this year's Australia Day honours list with an OAM for his contribution to agriculture and in particular for pioneering the development of no-till farming.

This one-pass crop establishment method has seen production increases driven not just by annual yield increases, with results in the Great Southern rising from two tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to better than four tonnes per hectare in 2013, but also by the ability to continuously crop paddocks that previously would have been devastated by the loss of soil structure and exposure to both wind and water erosion. This major change to our cropping systems has led to an exponential increase in the use of other selective herbicides, such as trifluralin, diuron, metolachlor, atrazine, and insecticides like chlorpyrifos and cypermethrin. All of these chemicals were developed more than 30 years ago and are therefore all long off patent and yet remain critical for the viability of today's broadacre farmer.

A stark example of the cost savings to growers that occur when chemicals come off patent is glyphosate, which, when sold under patent by Monsanto in the late 1980s, retailed at the equivalent of $39 per litre in real terms versus approximately $4.50 today. There is a very real role for these older chemistries, even in the face of today's chemical and technological advances. And although farming is what I know best, it is probably pertinent to point out that glyphosate is still used widely in our parks and on our road verges to control a broad spectrum of weeds and prickles. Similar products are also used for managing invasive species and noxious weeds in our conservation areas and national parks. Notably the National Resource Management Ministerial Council of 2006 estimated that the economic impact of weeds alone on the Australian economy is in excess of $4 billion each year, with an environmental impact of a similar magnitude.

Regarding the livestock enterprises across my electorate, it is vitally important to retain access to reasonably priced off-patent veterinary chemicals not only for food and fibre production but also animal welfare outcomes. The control of external parasites such as lice or internal parasites such as worms is critical for the well-being of production animals, and as resistance develops to some of the newer formulations often the older chemistry comes back into play. Conversely with antibiosis, access to a larger suite of affordable antibiotics allows for judicious use of the most appropriate antibiotic and avoidance of the overuse of one product and possible resistance problems.

On the subject of animal welfare outcomes, flystrike, a well-known scourge to both sheep and grazier, has benefited from the insect growth regulator cyromazine, a product that breaks the life-cycle of the fly, thus protecting against flystrike for up to two months. For around 20c per head for two months protection, cyromazine is not only cheap but also safe for the animal, the handler and the environment. This particular product has saved untold numbers of my flock from a slow and grisly death that used to be associated with flystrike. Insect growth regulators are also safe for use environmentally in water sources to control mosquitoes, which spread Ross River virus, dengue fever and malaria between humans.

Insect growth regulators are also pivotal for protecting the built environment from termites, which brings me to the question: do these products really require the regular review that annual reapprovals, annual renewals and regular re-registration of the 2013 amendment act legislation would compel? The reality is that these should be merely administrative processes as there are already existing mechanisms within the regulatory body, the APVMA, to trigger a technical investigation of a product or constituent if indicated in any way. This is verified by the Productivity Commission and the Australian National Audit Office finding that the existing APVMA Chemical Review Programalready effectively identifies and prioritises existing chemicals requiring review.

The main criticism raised in recent submissions by stakeholders to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee is the extended time frame for completion of some of the APVMA chemical review processes. Surely this will only be abbreviated with the removal of any excessive administrative workload on the APVMA? The current APVMA chemical review system accords with international best practice as dictated by the OECD's recommendations of the Council on Regulatory Policy and Governance.

There is little scope that legislating re-regulation and reapproval will improve upon this system. In the EU, they have identified that their regulators have been overwhelmed with the excessive administrative burden this type of legislation has imposed. In addition, no cost benefit analysis or any other evidence has been presented to suggest that this reform would deliver any net benefit. In short the 2013 amendment act without the additional 2014 amendments is likely to result in several things. These include increased costs for the APVMA to administer re-registration and reapprovals, estimated to be an additional $2 million in 2015-16. There will be diminished access to innovative new agricultural products for use by Australian farmers due to excessive administrative demands on the APVMA distracting them from their real purpose. There will be potential stifling of innovation while registrants support existing registrations rather than create newer, safer and softer agricultural products. There will be increased costs of an essential farm input with flow-on effects throughout the supply chain. For example, CropLife Australia, representing the plant science industry, reveal that in 2011 direct costs to registrants was over $6.75 million as registrants pass the costs down through the chemical supply chain to wholesalers and retailers, until it reaches the primary producers who are already making marginal returns. There will be a reduction in availability of cheap and effective products as the financial burden of the reapprovals and re-registration process makes ongoing production and supply unviable. There will be resistance issues as the suite of chemicals available becomes less comprehensive and products are not used in sensible rotation. And there will be distractions from the important job of the APVMA in ensuring human and animal health and safety as well as positive environmental outcomes.

Recently the Senate referred the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 for inquiry and report. Of the 22 submissions received, the overwhelming majority were supportive of removing reapproval and re-registration. Two submissions, one from the WWF Australia and the National Toxics Network and the other from Choice, raised concerns that without annual reapprovals and regular re-registration older chemicals that were grandfathered into the National Registration Scheme for Agrivet Chemicals at its inception in 1996 would remain registered ad infinitum. They say that these chemicals have 'never been assessed against today's regulatory and scientific standards'. I am reliably informed that in fact these grandfathered chemicals were reviewed against the then current science and were found compliant throughout the period before the inception of the national registration scheme.

And since the inception of the national registration scheme, chemicals registered before 1996 have always had the capacity to have a chemical review triggered by any newly discovered data regarding toxicity, metabolism, chemistry, environmental fate and environmental chemistry of their registered active constituents. I believe that it is also a legal requirement for any new data and information on the constituents to be disclosed by the registrants upon discovery. There are other triggers of chemical reviews, including: information from any third party; the actions of an overseas regulator in response to that product or constituent; and feedback from the end-use consumer, be that a pet owner, farmer or veterinarian, through a national pharmaco-vigilance system called the Adverse Experience Reporting Program.

My point, therefore, is that retaining the 2013 amendment act regarding cyclical reapproval and reregistration will not provide any new information on these products and constituents that is not already made available under the existing chemical review arrangements. I note from my review of the Senate submissions that WWF/National Toxics Network and Choice were the only submissions to really have any opposition to the coalition's proposed changes to the 2013 amendment act. However, they do fully support giving powers to the APVMA to gather information about products supplied in the marketplace.

This 2014 amendment bill actually rewrites provisions to allow the APVMA more power to collect information from suppliers to ensure supplied products and their constituents are the same as those initially registered, and enables the APVMA to initiate testing processes for safety, efficacy, impurities et cetera on any suspicions of an imported or manufactured product by way of written demand. The AVPMA retains the power to recall, remove from sale, suspend or cancel the registration of any chemical product or active constituent that fails to meet any of its criteria on the safety and wellbeing of animals, humans or the environment.

With respect to the 2014 amendments bill allowing for simple variations to approvals and registrations, the desire is to further streamline the administrative process by allowing for simple changes to a product, such as a change to the colour or flavour of a formulation, the pack size or minor labelling to be a mere notification process rather than requiring an application, subsequent fee and possibly a repeat technical assessment of the already registered product.

I know that as a farmer, I buy certain products in the largest pack size for economies of scale, yet many are only available in the one pack size. For example, for worming sheep I might buy a 20-litre multidose pack of oral Ivermectin, but a suburban veterinarian may only require small volumes of this drug to occasionally worm a guinea pig, budgerigar or pet lamb. Yet this product is only available in the one size. There should be the capacity for smaller pack sizes of an identical product to be made available without incurring the substantial costs and administrative efforts of a full application process to provide a minor variation of an already approved and registered product.

There are currently 11,700 registered agvet chemicals in Australia, comprising one or more of 2,230 approved constituents. This may sound like a lot, but it is probably worth noting that Australia only represents four per cent of the global market. We need to remain an attractive place for companies to invest, bringing their chemicals and animal health products to market and to Australian farmers like me.

We also have to remember that our farmers are competing in a global market. The Black Sea region is one of our main competitors for grains, closer to our markets with lower transport costs into key markets in Europe and the Middle East. South America's beef, wool and grain has significant advantages using the latest technology, including genetic modification, producing at much lower costs with less regulation. Developing markets such as the dairy industry in China and the beef feedlot industry in Indonesia and Vietnam, have cheaper labour amongst other savings whilst reaping the benefit of Australian genetic input by importing our bloodstock.

To lose access to the full suite of chemistries and medications, or to have excessive financial penalties from overregulation, will see us fall behind in the global market. In conclusion, I reiterate my full support for the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014.

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