Littleproud backs board for ag chemicals regulator

By: Andrew Hobbs

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Three years after it was abolished, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is supporting a "skills-based board" for Australia's ag chemicals regulator.

Littleproud backs board for ag chemicals regulator
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud


Agriculture minister David Littleproud is pushing for the introduction of a "skills-based board" for Australia’s agricultural and veterinary chemical products regulator, three years after a similar board was abolished.

Mr Littleproud says the introduction of the board will strengthen Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), and called on opposing political parties to support the introduction of the board in legislation he is set to introduce to parliament.

"I am confident the APVMA is competent and independent. I have taken steps to further protect its independence by introducing legislation to have a skills based board to protect the transparency and accountability of the APVMA and its function."

"Politicians don't make decisions on which chemicals are safe or how they should be used; the scientists do – as they should," he says.

The APVMA was designed with an advisory board to provide advice and make recommendations to the regulator’s CEO when it was created in 1992.

The board was abolished as part of a series of moves to remove red tape in November 2015 as one of the first acts of the government led by Malcolm Turnbull, who had become prime minister two months prior.

"In consultation with the APVMA CEO, it has been determined that existing mechanimsms (sic) for consultations under APVMA’s legislation would result in a more responsive and cost‐effective advice mechanisms than the continuation of the advisory board," departmental documents from the time state.

According to the APVMA website, advisory board members did not represent particular interests, and were appointed based on experience in the regulation of chemical products, the agricultural chemical industry, primary production, environmental toxicology, consumer interests, public health and work health and safety.

Farms & Farm Machinery sought comment from Mr Littleproud’s office about how the proposed board might differ from the original model but did not hear back before deadline.

The government announced $27 million in new grants would be allocated to projects looking to support the development of sustainable farming practices earlier this year. Check out our story here 

Calls for Senate Inquiry

The minister made the comments as Labor announced it would push for a Senate Inquiry into the regulator’s independence from commercial interests.

Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon made the call after a 4 Corners report aired on the ABC last night, in a story questioning the safety of glysophate products registered for use in Australia.

The APVMA is mostly funded through fees paid by the companies wanting to register their products in Australia, as well as a levy based on their annual wholesale sales value.

Mr Fitzgibbon says it is critical that Australians can have confidence in the regulator.

 "Our inquiry will consider the effectiveness and responsiveness of the APVMA’s processes for reviewing agricultural chemicals – including glyphosate," Fitzgibbon says.

"It will also consider the funding arrangements for the APVMA and any impact they have on its independent, evidence-based decision making."

In his statement, Mr Littleproud says he supports the APVMA and its decisions to date.

"A cost recovery model funds independent regulators across multiple industries and this is appropriate," he says.

In its own statement, the APVMA says it uses a risk-based, scientific approach to ensure each agricultural chemical product is thoroughly and independently assessed before it enters the market.

"The APVMA understands that the public may have concern regarding glyphosate. There is a lot of information out there, and discussion in the media does not always get the facts or the science right," the Authority says.

"Along with an examination of many other scientific trials and studies, and like other regulators, the APVMA (has) determined that glyphosate is safe to use according to label directions."

"The manner in which the APVMA is funded bears no influence on our independent regulatory activities that continue to protect the health of Australia’s people, our agricultural industry, farmers, the environment and animals."

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