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Chemicals, farmers and the law

D.E. Weedman,

Registrar of Pesticides, Department of Agriculture, NSW

Presented by Hugh Fisher, Inspector, Pesticides Act.

Farmers will, I am sure, recognise that pesticides play an important part in agricultural production. At the current state of our scientific knowledge and development, pesticides are needed to protect agricultural produce from insects, weeds, diseases and other pests. They also, of course, play an important role in public health through disease and vermin control; and in the protection of our homes and buildings from pests such as ants and termites.

Despite the current use of pesticides and fertilizers, half the world’s population today has an inadequate diet, and food supplies will need to be doubled in the next 25 years in order to achieve even a moderate advance in nutritional standards.

Pests destroy up to a third of the world’s food crops during growing, harvesting, transport and storage. In the developing countries food and crop losses are even higher.

Apart from the massive losses which would occur in crop and livestock production without use of pesticides, we need also to be cognizant of the fact that people, in the more developed countries in particular, are today demanding a very high quality foodstuff. Any retailer of fresh fruit and vegetables will attest to the standards demanded by his customers. Even slight insect or disease damage to our fruit and vegetables tends to be unacceptable to the purchaser,

A substantial part of agricultural research, both here and overseas, is today devoted to seeking alternatives to pesticides, and to reducing their use. Integrated pest management, biological control, and the development of pesticides with a shorter residual life are examples of such areas of research.

Notwithstanding this research it seems unlikely that agriculture, as we know it, will be able to maintain adequate levels of production without pesticides in the foreseeable future.

Pesticides can, however, be hazardous to man; especially if grossly misused. Pesticides present a possible hazard to man in three basic ways. Namely, by direct human contact with these materials (during manufacture, handling, and use); by way of unacceptable pesticide residues in food (following misuse of these substances); and by way of possible contamination of the environment in which man lives (including waterways, hazards to wildlife, non—target insects, and other ecological considerations).

Additionally, the presence of unacceptable residues in food presents a problem to Australia's export trade, as importing countries will not accept produce containing pesticide levels above statutory limits.

To allow manufacture, sale and subsequent use of a pesticide therefore requires a true value judgement to be made; taking into account the benefits and advantages of use of the material, balanced against the potential or theoretical risks that would be inherent in the use.

It is for this reason that the Pesticides Act, 1978, and comparable legislation in other States and overseas , has been enacted. This Act is the principal Act in New South Wales which governs the sale, supply, possession and use of pesticides. The new Act was introduced to replace the Pest Destroyers Act, 1945.

The old Act was inadequate to cope with the changed techniques in agriculture over recent years and for dealing with the massive use of pesticides on crops and in other situations.

The old Act was deficient in three major areas:

1. the provisions for registration, labelling and packaging, and control of sale, supply and possession of pesticides were inadequate;

2. there was no control whatsoever over the use of pesticides; and

3. there was no control over foodstuffs that contain unacceptable pesticide residues.

The Pesticides Act, 1978 has been introduced to overcome these serious deficiencies.

The three main objects of the new Act are to:

1. provide for the registration of pesticides, the approval of containers (for registered pesticides), and the registration of labels;

2. control the sale, supply, use and possession of pesticides;

3. prevent certain foodstuffs containing prohibited pesticide residues from becoming available for consumption or export.

It is important for farmers to understand the main provisions of the Act, and I therefore propose to discuss these individually.

As I have indicated, the first object is to provide for the registration of pesticides, the approval of containers (for registered pesticides), and the registration of labels.

It is well known what is meant by a pesticide, but the term can be difficult to define precisely in legislation.

It was the aim of the Pesticides Act, 1978 to bring control over all pesticides and allied materials. Accordingly, in the new Act, a pesticide is defined in the broadest sense as;

any substance or organism that is manufactured, represented, sold or used as a means for directly or indirectly —

(a) destroying, stupefying, repelling, inhibiting the feeding of, or preventing infestation by or attacks of, any pest;

(b) attracting any pest for the purpose of its destruction;

(c) destroying vegetation or altering its natural development, productivity, quality or reproductive capacity; or

(d) destroying or rendering ineffective, or regulating the effect of, a fungus or any other parasitic vegetation, bacteria or a virus on or in —

(i) any substance other than a manufactured food or beverage; or

(ii) any form of life except where it is in livestock or on or in man,

and any substance or organism specified or described and declared to be a pesticide in an order published under subsection (7), but does not include —

(e) a substance or organism that is represented as being for use and is used for internal administration to animals; or

(f) (notwithstanding paragraph (c)) a substance that is represented as being for use and is used —

(i) solely as a fertilizer; or

(ii) as a means for remedying or assisting to remedy any imbalance in soil or any other matter in which vegetation is grown.

Thus insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, plant growth regulators, rodenticides, defoliants, lures, repellents, nematicides, pheromones and a number of other substances are covered by the legislation.

It is the intention that all these materials will be thoroughly evaluated under registration , be effective for the purposes claimed, and be properly packaged and labelled. Registration requirements, as currently required, are exacting and are designed to ensure that the label of the product will contain adequate and clear directions in the interests of users and all other parties concerned. Due account is taken, and will continue to be taken, of the need to protect human health and the environment in general.

The Registrar of Pesticides can refuse registration if these requirements are not met.

If after registration, at a later date, any serious adverse information becomes available on a pesticide, the Registrar of Pesticides can cancel that registration and require withdrawal of the material.

Advertising, and claims, made about pesticides will also be controlled to ensure consistency with the registered label instructions.

The aim of these provisions is to ensure that only effective products reach the market; that these products are properly packaged; and that label details are accurate and sufficient to allow proper and correct use of the material concerned.

The second object of the new legislation is to control the sale, supply, possession, and use of pesticides.

Products must be registered before being sold or supplied, must be packaged in approved containers , and bear the registered label, A person may not have an unregistered pesticide in his possession.

Requiring the proper labelling of pesticides, and the control over sale, supply and possession does not in itself ensure proper use of these materials.

Despite all the rigors of label scrutiny, obviously a user can then choose to ignore the label instructions.

It is the blatant disregard of label directions resulting in indiscriminate application that can lead to problems associated with human health, create environmental hazards, and bring about rejection of produce in international trade.

The Pesticides Act, 1978 makes it an offence for any person to wilfully or carelessly disregard any instruction on the registered label. This includes instructions on directions for use, crops to be treated, withholding periods, precautions to be taken, or any other matter.

Where it is considered that additional controls are needed over any pesticide, it can be declared to be a Restricted Pesticide. This means the pesticide can only be used by persons issued with a certificate ot competency, Tests for issue of such a certificate can be required. The user can also be required to keep records of use of the material, and to submit regular returns.

Notwithstanding the above provisions a person is not to do anything with a pesticide that is likely to cause a risk of injury to himself or another person, or to cause damage to the property of another person.

Clearly these provisions aim to protect buyers of pesticides in receiving only registered pesticides which are properly labelled and packaged.

All importantly, the aim is to prevent blatant misuse of these materials in the interests of all parties concerned.

It is recognised, however, that there are certain circumstances where use of an unregistered pesticide, or use of a registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with the registered label, is necessary. Examples of such situations are for research purposes; for the control of an ‘‘exotic” pest; or in ‘‘minor’’ or “new” crops,

In such situations, a permit may be issued, subject to specified conditions, to allow a person to do any of the following:

1. Sell or supply an unregistered pesticide,

2. Have in possession an unregistered pesticide.

3. Prepare for use, and use, an unregistered pesticide.

4. Make a claim for use of a pesticide which is not included on the registered label.

5. Prepare for use, and use, a pesticide in a manner which is not included on the registered label.

Where there is a widespread need for use of an unregistered pesticide and it would be impractical to issue individual permits, provision exists for a pesticide order to be made.

A pesticide order has basically the same function as a permit and can be issued for the same purposes.

The difference is that the details of a pesticide order will be published in the Government Gazette, whereas a permit must be issued to an individual.

The third object of the Pesticides Act, 1978 is to prevent certain foodstuffs containing prohibited pesticide residues from becoming available for home consumption, or export.

The whole matter of pesticide residues in food is one of considerable importance,

Unacceptable residues in produce could affect the health of

Australian consumers, and can also have an adverse effect on

Australian export markets.

Many overseas importers will not accept foodstuffs containing:

1. Any residues of certain pesticides, or

2. Residues of some other pesticide above the defined statutory limits,

The Pure Food Act, 1908, administered by the Health Commission of NSW, exercises control over pesticide residue affected foodstuffs in the marketplace and available for human consumption.

The Pesticides Act, 1978 will now exercise control over crops and agricultural produce, containing unacceptable pesticide residues, at farm level, or whilst in transit from the farm to the marketplace or other destination, An authorised inspector may, with the consent of the Registrar of Pesticides, quarantine an unacceptable crop whilst still growing, or following harvest.

In extreme circumstances, where it has been established that the residue levels in the foodstuff will not fall to an acceptable level within 3 years, that foodstuff may be destroyed.

In this way it is proposed to stop pesticide residue affected foodstuffs from reaching the markets both in Australia and overseas.

The major implication of the Act for farmers is, however, the need to follow the label on the pesticide product. I therefore wish to deal now with the main information which appears on a label.

At the top of the ~~principal panel” on most labels is the signal warning, which gives an indication of the toxicity of the product, and also contains instructions such as “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN” and “READ SAFETY DIRECTIONS BEFORE OPENING”.

This is followed by the trade name of the product and then by a statement indicating the amount(s) and name(s) of the active constituent(s) present in the product. A brief statement of the purposes for which the product may be used often follows. The net contents and name and address of the company which has been granted registration of the product often appears at the foot of this panel; and if not located here this information must appear elsewhere on the label,

The complete directions for use of the product appear usually on the “secondary” panel. These directions include any special precautions necessary to avoid any undesired effects (e.g. damage due to spray drift) or to assist in effective control of the pests; mixing directions; the specific crop(s) or situation(s) in which the product may be used; the specific insect(s), disease(s), or weed(s) controlled or purpose(s) for which the product may be used; the rate(s) of application; and details of the timing and method(s) of application,

Where necessary, labels also include withholding periods. A withholding period is the time that must elapse between the last application of the pesticide and harvest of the crop, grazing or cutting for stock food, slaughter of treated animals for food, or consumption of produce, A withholding period is imposed in order to ensure that any residues of the pesticide which might remain are below the defined statutory limits. It is therefore important that they be strictly observed in the interests of the health of Australian consumers and of Australian export markets.

In addition, labels bear safety directions to be observed in the interests of safe application of the product; first aid statements for guidance as to the immediate action to take in the event of a poisoning; and any other general information (.such as storage of the product, disposal of used containers, maintenance and cleaning of equipment) which has not been included elsewhere on the label.

Finally, labels bear the statement “NOT TO BE USED FOR ANY PURPOSE, OR IN ANY MANNER, CONTRARY TO THIS LABEL UNLESS AUTHORISED UNDER APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION”. This serves as a reminder of the need to read the label and to follow its instructions, in the interests of safe, economic and effective use of the product; and that in any case it is an offence not to so do.

It is considered that the Pesticides Act will provide adequate control in all areas except some aspects associated with aircraft application of pesticides.

The requirements of the Act, of course, apply irrespective of whether application of the material is being made by ground equipment or from aircraft.

However, it is recognised that certain additional controls are necessary over application of pesticides from aircraft.

Therefore, a complete new Section of the Pesticides Act is being prepared to apply specific requirements to aircraft application of pesticides.

Basically, these new provisions will provide for the examination and licensing of pilots; the provision of adequate security in the form of insurance by each operator; the proper keeping of records for examination; and the power to regulate the conditions under which, and the areas where, pesticides may be applied from aircraft.

In conclusion, farmers will be aware of the need for pesticides. However, the problems associated with use of these materials must also be recognised.

The Pesticides Act allows the availability, sale, and use of appropriate pesticides following evaluation; but restricts use of these materials to specific situations where it has been demonstrated they are effective, and safe to humans and the environment in general.

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