CropLife Australia has responded to allegations made against the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA), declaring it is of the utmost importance that the nation's chemical regulator remains an independent body.
Following several serious allegations being made against the APVMA during 2019-2022, an independent, strategic review into its operations was ordered by Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and commissioned by law firm Clayton Utz.
Upon the review, which brought into question the professionalism and integrity of Australia's agrichemical regulator, being publicly released, Mr Watt appointed Ken Matthews, a former employee of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry, to conduct a rapid evaluation of the APVMA, including recommendations on its future governance, structure and funding arrangements.
"Concerningly, the Clayton Utz review found serious allegations of industry capture of the APVMA, which appears to have played a key role in the organisation not performing its full regulatory responsibilities," Mr Watt said.
However this rapid evaluation of Australia's chemical regulator has drawn response from agricultural industry stakeholders which are concerned the government may use the rapid evaluation to expand its reach over the independent body.
Speaking at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA convention in Perth last month, CropLife Australia director of government and strategic relations Justin Crosby weighed in on the investigation and commentary from public and government sources.
"The most concrete finding that was made in that report, and this is after they reviewed every document that you can review when you get paid $800,000, is that there had been no failure of the APVMA to apply the science and no finding of any inappropriate registration of a chemical product," Mr Crosby said.
"While there were a number of other scurrilous accusations around industry capture, there's been no clear findings.
"They focused upon timely registration which is what the act requires them to do and drew an inference that the APVMA was captured by industry, whilst at the same time in the report saying that one of their failings with a 2,4-D label was that they hadn't engaged with industry, they hadn't helped the industry understand what was happening and got the advice from industry about how to progress.
"It's a very muddled up, less than clear report, that has been reported on very poorly."
Despite the recent controversy surrounding the APVMA, Mr Crosby said the sector needed to be vigilant about ensuring independent science was at the centre of the APVMA's framework.
"One of the worrying things for us is that the independent review of the APVMA that came out a few years ago led by the Department of Agriculture sought to weaken that independence and place themselves over the top and have greater oversight and greater intervention into the APVMA processes," Mr Crosby said.
"We have a complete lack of trust in the department's capacity to oversee and govern in a way that will ensure that science wins the day and will enable us to prosper, but also enable us to environmentally do what's right."
Mr Crosby said it was vital the government's policy settings were right and that science continued to prove Australia's farmers' ability to grow food safely.
"We also need to make sure that we do our best in terms of our industry steward efforts...we need to avoid the off-target damage that happens with things like spray drift and to continue to use programs like drumMUSTER to make sure that we manage the waste that could otherwise occur," Mr Crosby said.
Early last month, Mr Watt granted Mr Matthews an extension, with the rapid evaluation of the APVMA due last Friday.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.