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Does Australia's pesticide regulator need to catch up to other countries?

15 June 2011

A number of community groups have today asserted that Australia needs to catch up with other developed countries in regard to chemical regulation.

The Australian regulatory system, it is argued, is well behind the times and that people and the environment are being put at risk.

The arguments used to support the claim however are misleading and in some cases incorrect.

Is the Australian system lagging behind that of other countries? Not at all. The Australian system is highly regarded internationally. Australia uses the same regulatory science and assessment frameworks as other countries. It actively collaborates with international bodies on a regular basis and even partners with overseas regulators in reviewing new chemicals. Many regulators model their systems on the Australian system.

What about long chemical reviews? The APVMA has elected to keep some chemicals under almost constant review to manage the risks they may present. These chemicals have been subject to continuing regulation most often in the form of increasing restrictions on use.

What about the 80 chemicals banned in Europe because of human health or environmental concerns still used in Australia? This is a case where community groups have misread the European Union system. The European Union does not keep a list of banned chemicals. The APVMA has not permitted 80 chemicals banned in Europe to be used here. The eighty, in fact, are generally those that are registered in Australia but not in the EU. The fact that one country/region has authorised a different set of chemicals than another is not unusual. The EU, for example, has about 100 chemicals that are not registered in Australia. Canada, the United States and New Zealand would all have different lists.

Do we allow chemicals that are suspected carcinogens? Endocrine disruptors? This is a shallow analysis in that potential carcinogenicity or endocrine disruption are among the many hazards that the regulator actively manages. It does this by ensuring that people are never exposed to chemicals at a level scientifically determined to cause harm. Why a shallow analysis? X-rays are a known carcinogen if people are exposed to high levels of radiation; alcohol is too, if people consume too much. The contraceptive pill is an endocrine disruptor. That these products exist in Australia is not evidence of regulatory failure.

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Last updated on 15 June, 2011