Abbott's repeals could sideline hazardous chemical review

A SYSTEMATIC review of potentially hazardous chemicals used on Australian farms, homes and backyards could be sidelined under the Abbott Government's red tape repeal legislation.

The review was meant to ensure agricultural and veterinary chemicals were systematically assessed for any dangers to human or environmental health, starting July this year.

But changes introduced in parliament this week could yet allow some chemicals already available in Australia to go un-assessed for several years, critics have said.

The review, initiated by the previous government, part of reforms to chemicals laws, in order to deal with a backlog of unassessed chemicals on the national regulator's books.

Those chemicals included a range of pesticides and herbicides that are commonly used in farm operations, in backyards and homes, to deal with weeds and pests.

One of the bills introduced on the government's "red tape repeal day" on Wednesday seeks to abandon the re-approval and re-registration of active ingredients and chemical products under the review process.

Instead, the government aims to remove the "periodic examination" of such chemicals (every seven to 15 years), and leave it up to the Agricultural Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to review them when "newly identified risks" are found.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the repeal of the laws would save the ag-vet chemical industry up to $1.3 million "by removing duplicative and unnecessary red tape".

"As a result of these reforms farmers will have surety that access to chemicals with a history of safe and effective use will not be compromised by an unnecessary bureaucratic process," he said.

But the changes have raised the ire of the National Toxics Network, a non-government organisation dedicated to scrutinising the regulation of chemicals in Australia.

NTN coordinator Jo Immig said the review would have gone through lists of chemicals in use, looking for "red flags", where other countries have banned or limited the use of pesticides and herbicides.

"It's correct that we've got a chemical review system which may eventually pick up problems," she said.

"But that approach lies on waiting for something to go wrong, then entering a lengthy review phase which could take years to complete.

"The system the government is removing is one that basically goes looking, systematically, through the chemicals to find red flags on hazardous substances, or where another jurisdiction might have banned the chemical."

Ms Immig said while she was unsure of how many chemicals still needed assessment, the NTN compiled a list in 2010 which showed up to 80 active ingredients in many chemical products that needed "urgent attention".

"The reality is that these decisions should be made on the basis of sound scientific process, and to have it overridden by the political process is a worrying trend," she said.

While the changes aim to repeal the extensive chemical review, the national regulator will still maintain powers to recall or suspend the registration of chemicals "if they may no longer meet criteria".

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