A NETWORK of concerned groups and individuals have hit out at proposed changes to the regulatory structure of the agricultural chemical code, saying they fear farmer safety may be thrown out the window in favour of expediency.
The National Toxics Network issued a consensus statement this week on behalf of concerned scientists, farmers and organisations who said agvet review had been designed to decrease red tape in the crop protection industry, but instead would transfer more risk from the big chemical companies to farmers.
There were 139 recommendations made in the draft independent report into the agvet sector, with the panel that compiled the study handing down its final findings in May.
"If I was a farmer I would definitely be having a look at where risk would lie under the proposed changes," said marine vet Matt Landos, director at Future Fisheries.
Dr Landos also expressed concern as to whether the changes could erode safety protocols.
"As it stands the amendments would see safety take a back seat to simply getting chemicals registered quickly," he said.
"While farmers might getting their hands on products quicker is a good thing it is a false economy if that happens because corners are being cut in ensuring appropriate checks and balances."
Dr Landos said this led to increased concern both farmers and the broader community would be exposed to toxic pesticides at dangerous levels.
He said he had grave concerns for marine life.
"The recommendations do nothing to stop the harm from the flood of toxic chemicals entering the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
"In fact there is the potential water could be made more toxic."
Dr Landos said he had grave doubts about one of the central planks of the recommendations, which was moving agvet chemical rules more towards self-regulation.
"It is a case of putting politics over science, the report acknowledged there were flaws with the current APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) regulatory review process, which is fine, but they do not raise recommendations which would correct that."
Meanwhile, the crop protection sector also expressed disappointment with the draft review, although its take was that farmers were being denied opportunities presented to their overseas counterparts.
"We wish to see reasonable efficiencies delivered in the system that ensure farmers have access to innovations that their international competitors have while ensuring the safety of any products approved," said CropLife Australia chief executive Matthew Cossey.
He said proposed changes would simply create another layer of bureaucracy without addressing the procedural inefficiencies that caused problems.
"It is disappointing that the draft report does not outline a cohesive, approach to a next generation regulatory framework, instead, attempting to insert a 'fix' onto specific areas of concern," Mr Cossey said.
He said he was concerned at the inconsistencies within the report.
"The Panel has at times proposed recommendations that are conflicting and work against stated goals regarding efficient, risk-based regulation and social license."
"It appears that the Panel's solution to these unnecessary regulatory inefficiencies is to create a second, parallel regulatory arrangement under the control of the Department [of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, rather than addressing current failings in the existing framework"
Other signatories to the consensus statement backed up Dr Landos' views.
Jo Immig, co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network, slammed the report process
"The inquiry was rigged from the outset to deliver an industry agenda to deregulate agvet chemicals, further eroding health and safety protections," Ms Immig said.
Tammi Jonas, president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, said the Australian ag sector had missed an opportunity to move in-step with other major agricultural producers and introduce targets to reduce the use of biocides.
Bob Phelps, GeneEthics executive director said the review was a chance to implement provisions to cast scrutiny over currently registered chemicals.
"GeneEthics calls for a chemical re-registration scheme to require the regulator to review all agricultural and veterinary medicines," Mr Phelps said.
"This would mean the latest scientific evidence and testing methods are used and would minimise the toxic impact on farm and in the food chain."
The group are seeking signatories to their consensus statement at: