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.