THE DISTRIBUTOR of a contaminated batch of herbicide says it is now waiting to assess the extent of damage caused by the polluted product.
Late last month 4Farmers formally notified the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) of a voluntary recall of batch number 17017/2 of its Clopyralid 300 herbicide.
The herbicide, used to control broadleaf weeds in a range of crops, with the active ingredient clopyralid, was contaminated by glyphosate, with reports of readings of glyphosate as high as 128 grams a litre of glyphosate.
4Farmers said it believed the contamination was spread over a batch of 6660 litres. It said further testing was required to see if glyphosate levels were as high in other samples of contaminated product.
Label rates for post-germination applications generally range between 150 millimetres a hectare and 300ml/ha depending on the crop and the target weed.
There have been reports of damage to crops due to the contaminated herbicide, with the estimated area impacted expected to be in excess of 1000ha, although 4Farmers is hopeful the final figure may be lower than initial estimates.
4Farmers confirmed the majority of the impacted growers were in WA, where the business is based, with other cases of crop damage potentially caused by the contaminated herbicide reported on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula and in NSW.
Neil Mortimore, general manager at 4Farmer said the recall had begun immediately after the company had been alerted to concerns surrounding the product.
“We acted promptly to personally contact by telephone and email all the potential customers who may have purchased the product, and immediately advised them to not use the product and provided instructions on what to do with the product to have it removed from their farms,” he said.
He said the company was confident it was on top of the problem.
“The entire batch has now been identified, accounted for and removed from circulation,” he said.
Grain Growers joint chief executive David McKeon said the major issue thrown up by the contamination was how the industry managed such incursions.
“We’ve seen the APVMA come out and publish voluntary recalls on its website, and that is great, but in reality I don’t think growers are sitting around checking the APVMA website before spraying,” Mr McKeon said.
He suggested a system similar to the GRDC Grow Note Alert program, where when a situation is deemed serious enough a message is sent directly to growers.
“Obviously it would require tweaking but something along those lines has merit in terms of people getting that information in a timely manner when there is a crisis,” Mr McKeon said.
“Direct communication with customers and resellers and distributors being involved will all also play a role, the key thing is to get the info out there as quick as you can and ensure as few people are impacted as possible.”
In terms of the specifics of the issue with the 4Farmers herbicide, which follows high profile cases of contamination in herbicides widely used in the horticulture sector, sold by Syngenta and Nufarm, Mr McKeon said it was important the APVMA investigated on a case by case basis.
“You can’t have a one size fits all approach to these issues.”
Matthew Cossey, chief executive of CropLife, Australia’s peak body for the crop protection sector, said there was no issue with the APVMA’s voluntary recall.
“It’s important to note that the voluntary withdrawal and recall process is only able to be used when the APVMA determines there is no risk to the safety of human health and the environment from a product that is outside of its registered specifications,” he said.
He said claims chemical companies had tried to hide issues with their product were incorrect and said CropLife was happy to see a list of voluntary recalls on the APVMA website.
“Our members are always happy to see an improved, more effective and more efficient regulatory system.”
Meanwhile, Accensi, the manufacturer which supplied Syngenta and Nufarm with the contaminated product, has been slapped with a $100,000 fine by the APVMA for the supply of herbicides found to contain additional chemical actives other than those listed in the registered formulation.
APVMA chief executive Chris Parker said the fines were the largest ever issued by the APVMA under the Agvet code.
He said the APVMA first became aware of the issue in December 2016, when companies affected by the contamination provided notice to the APVMA of several voluntary recalls that they were undertaking.