Cash checks calls to scrap costly ag-vet-chem labels

04 May, 2016 02:00 AM

EMPLOYMENT Minister Michaelia Cash has refused to budge on industry demands to stop the introduction of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labelling of farm chemicals on January 1 next year.

Last week CropLife Australia slammed the labelling regime saying it duplicated existing scientific, evidence-based risk assessments already conducted by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on ag-vet chemicals.

CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said the GHS introduction was a “classic example of bureaucracy gone mad” which would force an extra $58 million of unnecessary red tape costs onto Australian agriculture.

In calling for Senator Cash’s intervention, Mr Cossey said the GHS labelling regime was a mistake that originated under the previous government but was “ushered in under this government’s watch”.

Animal Medicines Australia and the National Farmers Federation have also asked the government to intrude on Safe Work Australia (SWA) and the Department of Employment’s policy position, to forge ahead with the GHS.

But a spokesperson for Minister Cash said GHS was an internationally agreed system, created by the UN which had already been implemented in a significant number of countries including the EU, Japan and Canada.

The spokesperson said under the former Labor government’s policy, ag-vet chemicals would be required – on January 1 next year - to include two extra pieces of information, if they didn’t already appear on the label.

That information includes; the intrinsic hazard caused by the chemical; for example, that it may cause cancer; and any precautions workers need to take to keep themselves safe.

The spokesperson said potential duplication had been addressed and SWA had recently published information confirming that GHS statements were not required, if the APVMA-approved label already contained similar information.

“The labelling requirements do not undermine the APVMA system,” the spokesperson said.

“Instead, they clearly highlight for workers where the chemical they are using could have a significant impact on their health and reinforce the need to correctly follow APVMA use instructions.”

The spokesperson said the Minister’s office met with CropLife last week to understand their concerns and would continue working with the industry group to ensure Australian labelling regulation was “fit for purpose and avoids unnecessary red tape”.

But NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm said he talked to Minister Cash about trying to reverse the GHS labelling decision and she was sympathetic and did not defend the status quo, but regarded it as a low priority issue.

Senator Leyonhjelm said the labelling regulations would only duplicate the APVMA’s existing assessments and had already forced millions of dollars in compliance costs onto chemical suppliers and therefore farmers, as their customers.

“Thirty seconds of analysis will tell you that this issue doesn’t stand up to any form of scrutiny,” he said.

Senator Leyonhjelm said the best way to deal with government ministers was to present them with the problem and the actual solution but on the GHS issue the second part of that equation was missing.

He said when the two government departments were considering introducing the labelling regime “someone forgot to exclude crop chemicals”.

Animal Medicines Australia CEO Duncan Bremner said the GHS system would potentially cost industry tens of millions of dollars to roll-out and at its best was duplication and at its worst was “dangerous”.

“To me it simply reeks of pig headed bureaucracy; they had a thought bubble and then they just stuck with it,” he said.

“If it was good enough for the US to recognise their current systems were adequate and not adopt GHS, what does it say about the APVMA which has a reputation for being one of the world’s best and most stringent chemical regulators?

“It’s a prime example of a solution looking for a problem and we are utterly against it.”

Mr Bremner said the GHS system would create massive inconsistencies given WA, Victoria and the ACT were not implementing the new labelling regime but other jurisdictions were.

He said the Coalition government needed to apply common sense and recognise the duplication would create a huge cost burden that’ll be passed onto the consumer, the farmer.

“It is completely unnecessary as the US and some Australian States have already recognised that,” he said.

“If the federal government was looking for a clear cut case of useless regulation to get rid of, here’s one presented to them on a silver platter.”

The Productivity Commission is analysing agricultural red tape – as part of the Coalition government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper - with a final report due by August.

Mr Bremner said the PC should not even be forced to make recommendations on the GHS with the government able to address a solution now.

“A couple of faceless bureaucrats seem to be the only ones fighting for it,” he said.

“We need people to stop putting this issue in the too hard basket and letting it go through to the keeper because it’ll have significant consequences for industry.”

In consultations on the Regulation Impact Statement over the GHS introduction, NFF Workplace Relations and Legal Affairs General Manager Sarah McKinnon said the regulations should be reviewed, to remove duplication or unnecessary regulation.

Ms McKinnon said the farm chemicals in focus already had comprehensive labelling reflecting risk assessments undertaken by the APVMA’s regulatory approval processes.

She said the introduction of hazard labelling was unnecessary given the existing and sophisticated approach to managing risks associated with farm chemicals.

“It will represent a duplication of regulation with an estimated cost of $20 million to the manufacturing industry that will be passed directly on to the farm gate,” she said.

“It may also introduce a conflict of laws given the current prohibition in the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act (AVCC Act) in relation to the display of information that conflicts with labels authorised by APVMA.

“As with the current exemption for therapeutic goods in Regulation 335, chemicals regulated by the AVCC Act should be exempt from the labelling requirement in Regulation 335.”

CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said the GHS system was more about justifying the existence of relevant policy branches and the SWA than about actually improving worker safety.

“We hope that common sense will prevail,” he said.

During Senate estimates hearings last year, Senator Leyonhjelm gained an admission that an ag-vet chemical company could have a product legally approved under the ag-vet code but would still be liable for prosecution for failing to comply with the additional GHS labelling requirements.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


angry australian
4/05/2016 7:33:50 AM

Here we go again another Minister who apparently doesn't know what the problem is! If I take Matthew Cossey's comments at face value it's " an extra $58 million of unnecessary red tape costs onto Australian agriculture." This from a Government that has an annual circus about cutting red tape! So farmers may pay an extra $58 m in a new "tax" to prop up the public service and to meet UN standards that aren't recognised world wide! Michealia quit choking the golden goose because if that figure is legitimate the chemical companies will pass it onto the farmer who cannot pass it onto the end user!
4/05/2016 8:23:17 PM

Whilst in the mean time, as Cash is imposing this cost, Chris Back gets bumped down the ballot.
John Carpenter
5/05/2016 6:46:59 AM

Another vote for big government,regulation and red tape from the left of centre Liberal Party.She's doing it because the UN says so?
John Niven
5/05/2016 7:41:22 AM

No wonder Americans are voting for Trumph
6/05/2016 8:18:18 AM

There should be no cost involved as chemical labels require review and update every 5 years and this came into most state legislation in 2012. The only way it could cost anything like that inflated sum is if industry ignored the law...Workers need better information and if this stops a farmer hurting themselves, their workers or their family then it is progress. The campaign against GHS information is politics but the practicality is to give people the proper information to be safe!
angry australian
6/05/2016 9:31:37 AM

Really Concerned are you in the Ministers Office,the Department or a political staffer? All of a sudden, weeks before an election you come on and say trust me "The only way it could cost anything like that inflated sum is if industry ignored the law.." . What is the right sum?? At this stage I am more inclined to accept that Mr Cossey will be more correct than you are. Creating extra red tape would seem to be contrary to current government policy!
angry australian
6/05/2016 11:09:23 AM

Concerned answer this question as you appear to be well informed. If there is absolutely no change to the active chemicals in a product why do "chemical labels require review and update every 5 years and this came into most state legislation in 2012."? Is this just a job creation scheme for bureaucrats that ends up imposing higher costs via secret taxes on farmers?


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