The National Residue Survey (NRS) is a vital part of the Australian system for managing the risk of chemical residues and environmental contaminants in Australian food products. The NRS supports Australia’s food industry and primary producers by facilitating access to key export markets and confirming Australia’s status as a producer of clean food. NRS programs encourage good agricultural practices, help to identify potential problems and indicate where follow-up action is needed.
The NRS was established by the Australian Government in the early 1960s following concerns about pesticide residues in exported meat. Since then, the NRS has expanded to test other animal, grain, horticulture and fish products for residues of pesticides and veterinary medicines, as well as for other contaminants. The NRS became an industry-funded activity in 1992 and relevant legislation was established.
The core work of the NRS is to facilitate the testing of animal and plant products for pesticide and veterinary medicine residues, and environmental contaminants. Product testing is done through either random or specifically designed sampling protocols. Other programs within the NRS, such as laboratory evaluation and business activities, support the core work of residue testing.
Residue monitoring aims to:
- provide an estimate of the occurrence of residues in products (using systems based on sampling and statistical probability)
- confirm (or otherwise) that residues in products are below set limits
- alert responsible government authorities and industry if, and when, limits are exceeded, so that corrective action can be taken.
Role in the Department of Agriculture
Residue monitoring is part of an overall strategy of the department to minimise chemical residues in agricultural produce. Monitoring can identify potential problems, including inappropriate use of chemicals, and can indicate where follow-up action by state or territory regulators is required.
NRS activities contribute to the overall activities of the department. In particular, they contribute to activities concerned with managing residues in foods (described in Program 2.1 of the department’s Annual Report 2013–14).
Australian primary industries can participate in the NRS by providing funds through levies or through contracted direct funding. Although legislation does not require any industries to participate in NRS programs, commodity industries such as cattle, sheep, goat, deer, pig, fish, honey, chicken, egg, horse and kangaroo participate so they can meet requirements for market access or export certification, or to satisfy obligations under Australian Standards for domestic markets.
Since 1993, and following the enactment of the National Residue Survey Administration Act 1992 (Admin Act), participating industries have funded NRS residue monitoring programs and associated activities via levies or direct payments.
The relevant levy acts and regulations are:
- National Residue Survey (Customs) Levy Act 1998
- National Residue Survey (Excise) Levy Act 1998
- Primary Industries Levies and Charges (National Residue Survey Levies) Regulations 1998.
The department's Levies Revenue Section coordinates the collection of levies across the department on a fee-for-service basis.
Levy rates are established in consultation with participating industries in accordance with the Australian Government’s Levies Principles and Guidelines, Policy for the Management of New and Amended Levies within Australia. To ensure equity, levies are held in the NRS Special Account and are accounted for on an industry-by-industry basis.
Business and administration within the NRS provides:
- all business services required for the efficient conduct of the NRS, including governance, financial and quality management systems
- advice to NRS programs on costs of services
- cost-effective management of sample acquisition, distribution and database
- contract, levy and legislation management, including monitoring of adequacy of levy rates
- an annual report to parliament.
All NRS revenue is held within the NRS Special Account which is established under section 6(2) of the Admin Act and by the Financial Management Legislation Amendment Act 1999. It is a ‘Special Account’ for the purposes of subsection 5(3) of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.
In accordance with section 8 of the Admin Act, funds from the Special Account may be spent on:
- monitoring and reporting the level of residues and environmental contaminants in applicable products
- tracing and determining the sources and causes of residues and contaminants
- investigating and preventing residues and contaminants.
The NRS provides each participating industry with an annual financial statement detailing levy revenue, expenditure and industry account reserves for the past financial year, and a forecast for the current financial year.
Tendering and contractual arrangements for the supply of services, particularly analytical testing, are managed in accordance with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.
Criteria for access to industry funds
The following criteria were established in consultation with participating industries to give clear guidance on the interpretation of section 8 of the Admin Act and requirements that must be fulfilled when applying for residue-related project funding from industry accounts:
- Demonstration of a clear and direct relationship between the activities to be undertaken and residue/contaminant measurement, prevention or management.
- Demonstration of a direct relationship between the intended program and the purpose for which funds were raised (e.g. if a levy has been raised for testing meat, then that levy cannot be used to test pelt/skin).
- Demonstration of full support of the proposed activity by levy providers.
- Provision of full accountability for all approved funds. Such accountability entails
- provision of, in advance, a full schedule of intended activities, including costings and timelines against each activity
- a full acquittal of expenditure for each activity, endorsed by the peak body.
Note: Where an activity is only partially relevant to the purposes outlined under section 8(1)(a)(iv) of the Admin Act, funding will apply in proportion to the relevance of the activity.
Under sections 8(1)(a)(i), (ii) (iii) and (iv) of the Admin Act, levy-generated and direct-payment funds may be spent on activities specifically related to random monitoring programs, targeted testing programs and production system input testing.
The NRS holds an extensive database of residue data for a range of commodities. Participating industries and governments can access information from the database to gain or maintain market access, or to set and review standards.
Data release is carefully managed under the ‘Release of Information’ requirements of the Admin Act to ensure confidentiality and privacy (section 11). Information released to a relevant authority or appropriate person is used only for the purpose of monitoring, traceback, or regulation of residues and contaminants.
The results of NRS residue monitoring programs are provided to participating industries. Information from NRS programs that identifies particular people or their property is released only to government authorities (i.e. Australian, state or territory government authorities responsible for the monitoring or regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemical residues and contaminants), or to individuals approved by the department as being appropriate persons to be granted access to the information under paragraph 11(2) (b) of the Admin Act.
The NRS is certified to AS/NZS ISO 9001:2008 for its quality management system, which covers all elements of NRS activity. The key objective of the quality management system is to maintain and improve, where practical, the effectiveness and efficiency of all NRS operations, including procedures and protocols for the development of monitoring plans and the support of export certification.
The NRS continues to develop its quality management system in line with recommendations from independent quality assurance audits.