Glyphosate concerns drift closer to home

Glyphosate concerns drift closer to home

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Thailand is banning the import and use of glyphosate domestically and eliminating its residue tolerance on imported feed and food products.

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Since 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded glyphosate should be classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, a growing number of jurisdictions around the globe have been reviewing or limiting the use of glyphosate on their home turf.

Vietnam's ban on the import and domestic use of glyphosate - announced in April this year - brought glyphosate concerns close to home for Australia, with Vietnam a significant buyer of Australian grain.

Now, the announcement by Thailand in the last fortnight that it is not only banning the import and use of glyphosate domestically but also eliminating its residue tolerance on imported feed and food products, brings glyphosate concerns even closer to Australia.

This is because it is the first Australian grain export market of note where a domestic-use ban is explicitly accompanied by a change to import tolerances for chemical residues.

Effective from December 1, this move has real consequences for what Australia can export to Thailand in the future. Grain that has been pre-harvest desiccated with glyphosate will not be eligible for Thai import.

Excluding our recent drought years, Australia has exported an average of 432 kilotonnes of wheat and 168 kilotonnes of barley (five years to 2017/18) to Thailand. This puts Thailand outside of Australia's top 10 export wheat markets and only our eighth-largest barley market.

However, unlike some other larger markets, Australia has exported wheat and barley to Thailand continuously for more than 20 years and with growth of 2-3 per cent per annum respectively over the past decade. Failure to deliver wheat and barley that has not been pre-harvest treated with glyphosate would close this market for us.

Thailand's ban on the domestic use of glyphosate will, however, provide an opportunity for more grain to be sold into the country.

In 2018/19, domestic corn production accounted for close to 90pc of Thailand's six million tonne corn supply. Without the ability to use glyphosate in pre-planting land preparation, corn yields will likely fall.

The extent of the fall will depend on which alternative weed management practices can be adopted. Other chemicals, mechanical tillage and manual weeding will cost more and have lower efficacy. Lower yields and higher costs of production will almost certainly lead to greater import demand.

In Western Australia last year, segregation was created in the bulk-handling system for barley that could not be accompanied by a declaration that it had not been pre-harvest desiccated with glyphosate.

On top of Australia's history that has proven it can deliver on stringent maximum residue levels (MRLs), this segregation further underscores Australia's capacity to deliver to market requirements, and indeed be in a position to capitalise on this change - to the extent feed barley can be substituted for feed corn in the Thai market.

Of course, any increase in Thai grain import demand will be up for grabs, with Argentina, Ukraine and Russia front runners to compete for the market opportunity on the basis of price alone. But, with a new zero glyphosate MRL, competition cannot be on price alone.

The value of Australia's superior supply chain assurance systems must surely come to the fore in this instance.

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