Growers face label lashing

Rueben HaleCountryman

Farmers face a multi-million dollar agricultural chemical labelling bill if the Federal Department of Employment and Safe Work Australia carries out plans to introduce new labelling regulations.

On January 1 next year, agricultural chemical labelling will have to comply with the Globally Harmonized System of classification and labelling of chemicals designed for developing countries, such as Burkina Faso and Turkey, that don’t have appropriate independent and technically proficient agricultural chemical regulators.

The GHS was created by the United Nations to create a single worldwide methodology for chemical classification, labelling and safety data sheets.

The new labels will feature pictograms which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards, and signal words to indicate the relative level of severity of a hazard.

CropLife Australia chief executive Matthew Cossey has been scathing in his assessment of the plan, saying agricultural chemical regulation by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority was sufficient.

Mr Cossey also accused Safe Work of forcing a new labelling regime that would hit end users with about $58 million in additional costs and compromise safety.

“Our existing label regulation offers the best and most efficient outcomes for the protection of agricultural worker health and safety,” he said.

“Food production is fundamental to the success of Australia’s agricultural sector and all available evidence from around the world points to the scientific, evidence-based risk assessment system used by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority as the best.

“This is in line with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ recommendation of a high-end technically proficient risk‑based critical assessment approach.

“The plant science industry has always supported the proper implementation of GHS labelling both in Australia and globally as intended in unregulated chemical sectors, but not as a measure to undermine jurisdictions such as Australia that already have an appropriate, independent, rigorous and technically proficient agricultural chemical regulator.

“CropLife Australia looks forward to meeting with the Federal Government to have this unnecessary regulatory duplication removed before its too late.”

But a spokesman for Safe Work Australia said the cost of implementing the label requirements would be about $7 million and health and safety outcomes are expected to be improved under the change.

“A 2010 Decision Regulation Impact Statement also assessed the total cost of implementing the GHS for all other hazardous chemicals including reclassification, labelling and producing new safety data sheets, as being $97 million,” he said.

“The GHS will introduce internationally consistent assessment criteria, labels and safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals.”

Meanwhile, Kojonup farmer Wayne Crook said he spent about $100,000 a year on cropping and livestock chemical used on his farm and could not afford to pay added chemical costs.

“To change the labels will be counterproductive because there has been a lot of groundwork done in getting them right in the first place,” he said.

“The existing chemical labels are easy to understand and have been developed in consultation with farmers over many years to adhere to best practice in regards to its usage. This just seems like more unwanted and unneeded costly bureaucratic nonsense.”

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