My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Agriculture in the other place.
The action I seek is that she instigate an immediate written notification to all farmers throughout Victoria about the risk of contamination from the use of three commonly used herbicides made by the major agrichemical companies Nufarm, Crop Care and Syngenta, and their rights in relation to damages.
‘Clean and green’ is the label we proudly place on our locally produced fruit and vegetables and other agricultural produce. Australian food products are regarded throughout the world as being safe and of high quality. It is essential that we maintain that reputation, but that reputation is in jeopardy.
In March the Weekly Times horticulture reporter, Shannon Twomey, broke a story which surprisingly has not been more widely reported. It detailed the devastating losses farmers across Victoria and beyond are suffering after treating their crops with contaminated herbicides from these three major agrichemical companies — 200 000 litres of the tainted herbicide had been in supply stores for up to two years before being voluntarily recalled in December 2016 and January this year.
Last week the newspaper revealed Syngenta had recalled another 60 000 litres of the herbicide Gesagard, which they had allegedly continued to sell despite knowing that it was contaminated. It is disturbing how little effort the companies have made to inform farmers about the contamination, despite federal guidelines issued by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority recommending recalls be advertised in media outlets and published in media releases.
When the story broke many farmers were still unaware of the damage that they were unwittingly causing to their land and produce, and it follows that many are still likely to be in the dark about the issue. The Goulburn Valley region, which encompasses my electorate of Shepparton district, produces close to 25 per cent of the total value of Victoria’s agricultural production, but this is an issue that knows no political boundaries and is affecting farmers across the state. I have heard the story of one farmer in the north of the state who has lost millions of dollars as a result of this contamination. He has lost 90 per cent of last year’s celery and parsnip yield, up to 80 per cent of his spring onions and significant portions of other high-value vegetable crops.
Responsibilities regarding the manufacture of chemicals to the point of retail sale and the regulations regarding product contamination are of course a matter for the federal government, but the state government has a responsibility to serve its citizens and needs to step in to fill the void left by toothless commonwealth legislation. I urge the government to assist Victoria’s farmers to address what has been a wholesale betrayal of their consumer confidence, and I seek the minister’s assistance.