Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Growcom concerned by reports that key staff at APVMA are leaving the agency


Growcom is concerned by media reports that key scientists are leaving the Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) because it is moving to Armidale.

Access to modern agricultural chemicals is vitally important to enable our growers to be internationally competitive and ensure they can grow their crops with minimal off-site impacts.

We are not interested in ideological debates about the merits or otherwise of decentralisation and ask that the government give our industry assurance that there will be no reduction in the capacity of the APVMA to act effectively in its role.

We have always stood by the need for an effective regulatory system supported by an independent regulator and would be most concerned if the move resulted in compromised outcomes – in particular, delays in the regulatory assessments of crucial agricultural products and/or minor use permits.

We echo the viewpoint of representative body for agricultural chemical registrants, CropLife Australia, that just moving an agency from one in Canberra to one in Armidale does not necessarily create a ‘Centre of Excellence’ as suggested by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Excellence depends on the right numbers and quality of the staff at the agency, the programs in place and progress in achieving chemical approvals necessary for the industry.

The fact that apparently only about 10 to 15 of the APVMA’s 100 staff members have agreed to move to Armidale is highly disturbing, particularly since as a result the APVMA will only have half its usual residues team at the end of the year, responsible for regulating and monitoring the safe use of chemicals in agriculture.

In addition, apparently the APVMA has insufficient numbers of staff in the pesticides, health assessment, environment and chemical review areas – due to a range of reasons but which includes the move to Armidale.

Industry was not consulted on the reasons for the move, nor have there been any new projects or additional funding announced to create a real Centre of Excellence when the agency opens in March.

We endorse CropLife Australia’s call for structural changes and initiatives to leverage modern technology in the Armidale agency which may assist in improved efficiencies under a scenario of fewer numbers of staff in the future.

In particular, we support the call for co-locating the minor use and specialty crop program with the University of New England to take advantage of the presence of existing university researchers.

We also strongly support the call for the delivery of sustainable management practices under a similar program to the IR-4 in the United States.

We have argued for many years that the minor use system should be overhauled in recognition of the public good that access to these chemicals delivers. The minor use system was developed to address a clear market failure whereby it is impossible for many commodities to obtain access to chemicals through the standard registration process as the number of users is considered by the agricultural chemicals companies to represent too small a market to be viable.

The barriers to registration of chemicals are the result of a slow cumbersome registration system in a very small market with limited returns for registrants. The move to Armidale could facilitate the introduction of a new system in conjunction with the University.

We call on the government to create a real Centre of Excellence for the APVMA through these initiatives and improved funding.

Government must work with key stakeholders, including representatives of the horticulture industry to ensure delivery of outcomes to enhance growers’ productivity, regardless of the location of the APVMA.

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