Agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemicals help protect and improve farm productivity by destroying, repelling and controlling pests and diseases affecting animal and herd health and welfare. They are vital inputs in Australia’s red meat industry but their use patterns are tightly regulated so that our meat export trade is not disrupted by the unwelcome presence of chemical residues.
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In March 2018, in response to concerns raised by the veterinary medicines peak industry bodies that Australia's export slaughter intervals (ESI) were too conservative, the department engaged Ernst & Young (EY) to conduct an independent examination of current ESI arrangements and their appropriateness for protecting Australia’s trade interests. Key stakeholders (including the red meat export industry) were consulted by EY as part of this project, and a final report was delivered to the department in December 2018.
The review also informs a wider examination of the agvet chemical regulatory system. It complements two earlier studies commissioned by the department in 2017 and 2018. These were an examination of intellectual property arrangements and quality assurance systems for agvet chemicals, as part of supporting market access for Australian agricultural produce.
What is an ESI?
An export slaughter interval (ESI) is the time period determined by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) that must elapse between an animal's last exposure to a chemical and its slaughter for export purposes. Such intervals are set to protect Australia's trade interests by ensuring that meat exports meet the residue standards of the destination markets. Intervals that are too short invite costly trade and reputational incidents; intervals that are too long place Australian exporters at a competitive disadvantage to their international counterparts.
Many benefits are gained from agvet chemicals but with their use comes risks of undesirable residues. Such residues include the traces of a chemical or its breakdown into different components that remain in or on treated produce over time. To maintain the high quality of Australia’s meat produce, producers must ensure that residue limits are not exceeded when exporting meat products. This is done through the application of withholding periods (WHPs) and ESIs reflecting Australian or international maximum residue limits (MRLs).
The ESI review involved examining the residue management approach for agvet chemicals in Australia in comparison with international markets, specifically Brazil, New Zealand and the United States of America. An analysis of the economic costs and consequences of the current system was also undertaken.
The EY report finds that minor adjustments could be made to the current ESI system but it currently has no significant deficiencies. It further suggests keeping the system largely unchanged because it adequately meets the needs of red meat exporters - the key sector for which ESIs are set. However, the report does identify inadequate levels of understanding amongst agvet chemical registrants in relation to the factors that cause the APVMA to trigger an ESI review and the processes that it uses to undertake reviews.
The report further highlights that periodic reviews of all ESIs is not practical or appropriate. Indeed, EY’s analysis shows that not all ESIs need regular review and, while the APVMA is willing to undertake targeted reviews, better understanding on the part of registrants could lead them to seek targeted reviews when warranted.