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CHOICE Article Displays Misunderstanding of Australian Chemical Regulatory System

11 May 2009

The consumer organisation CHOICE ran a story about the regulation of household pesticides in the May 2009 edition of its magazine.

The article, which raised issues that may concern some readers, was based on an incomplete understanding of how agricultural and veterinary chemicals in Australia are regulated.

A key thrust of the article was to highlight the fact that many Australian pesticides (in this case insecticides) contain active ingredients that can cause adverse health impacts on humans.

This, of course, is no surprise since insecticides are designed to kill insects. Many contain chemicals that indeed have the potential to harm humans.

It is precisely because of this that Australia has a regulator whose principal role is to ensure that these potentially dangerous chemicals can be used safely.

How is this done? The APVMA scientifically researches the chemical’s inherent toxicity to fully understand the risk it can present. It then considers how the product is to be used and makes an assessment of any potential exposure people might have to the chemical.

Knowing the risks, it then determines if measures can be put in place to manage these risks. If they can, the product is allowed onto the Australian market. If not, market access is refused.

The range of measures that are used to manage risks to human health is numerous. They include restrictions on use, on who can use the chemical, training that might be required, seasonal limitations, requirements for protective clothing, special warnings where warranted, and first aid instructions.

For example, the only pesticides permitted for household use are those with very low toxicity, are diluted, only come in small pack sizes and are often premixed to reduce the risk of exposure to the concentrate.

Thus for the CHOICE article to simply say that household chemicals which contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health, and should be taken off the market in consequence, is to ignore the whole intent, purpose and activity of the Australia regulatory system.

It is akin to saying that we should ban cars because of their inherent danger without considering the investments that take place in vehicle engineering, driver training, road design, road rules and law enforcement designed to reduce those risks.

The article goes on to say that because certain products are not permitted in the European Union (EU) they should not be allowed in Australia. This statement, again, indicates an incomplete understanding of how each of the regulatory systems operate.

While national regulators share common understandings of the inherent toxicity of specific chemicals, there are many reasons why products may be permitted in one country and not in another. Common ones are different patterns of use, climate, cultural practices and preferences, crops and the ability to effectively mitigate risks. In many cases it may simply be that manufacturers have chosen not to seek approval of products for a range of economic reasons.

It should not come as a surprise then that the EU allows some chemicals that are not registered in Australia or indeed that other countries allow chemicals that neither Australia nor the EU permit.

The APVMA has contacted CHOICE and has offered briefings on the Australian regulatory system to better inform them, as well as the public, on how chemical products are regulated in Australia.

For further information, contact:

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