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 animal and plant products. The NRS supports Australia’s primary producers and agricultural industries by confirming Australia’s status as a producer of clean food and facilitating access to domestic and export markets.
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 and plant products for residues of pesticides and veterinary medicines, as well as for other contaminants. The NRS became an industry-funded activity in 1992.
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, quality management and business activities, support the core work of residue testing. NRS programs encourage good agricultural practices, help to identify potential problems and indicate where follow-up action is needed.
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, Water and the Environment
Monitoring of chemical residues in food through the NRS is part of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s strategy to minimise chemical residues in agricultural produce.
- identify potential problems, including inappropriate use of chemicals
- indicate where follow-up action by state or territory regulators is required.
NRS activities contribute to the outcomes of the department, in particular our activities concerning managing residues in foods as described in part 3 of the department’s annual report (National Residue Survey Administration Act 1992).
Australian agricultural industries seek to verify good agricultural practice (GAP) around the use of pesticides and veterinary medicines via national residue monitoring programs. High levels of compliance with Australian and international food standards help Australian agricultural industries to gain a commercial advantage from marketing ‘clean and green’ produce. The NRS provides a comprehensive and efficient way of monitoring and reporting residue issues.
Exporters of animal products are required under Australian law to participate in a national residue management program and export industries, such the red meat, pork and seafood industries, use the NRS to satisfy these obligations.
Other industries such as the grain, horticulture or non-exporting animal product industries use the NRS on a voluntary basis in order to demonstrate compliance with state food safety obligations and/or importing country requirements.
Participating industries also use respective NRS residue monitoring data in industry reports as a way of further demonstrating the integrity of their produce to customers.
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.
Industries contribute funds to the NRS through statutory levies on primary production and exports or through direct contract arrangements. All funds collected are held in a specific account and are only expended on residue monitoring activities.
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.
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.
The department’s Levies Revenue Section coordinates the collection of levies for the NRS and other levy-funded organisations on a fee-for-service basis.
All NRS revenue and expenditure passes through the NRS Special Account established under section 6(2) of the Admin Act.
In accordance with section 8 of the Admin Act, funds in the Special Account may only be spent on:
- the monitoring and reporting of the level of contaminants in applicable products
- the testing, either on a random basis or in specific cases, of applicable products or the environment for the purpose of tracing the sources of contaminants and determining the causes of contamination
- the testing and reporting of the level of contaminants in applicable products or the environment, and any associated activities, for the purpose of investigating the potential sources, and determining the potential causes, of such contaminants
- the prevention of contamination in, and the management of risks associated with, contamination of applicable products.
Criteria for access to NRS funds
The criteria listed here were established in consultation with participating industries to give guidance on the interpretation of section 8 of the Admin Act and the requirements for seeking access to NRS funds:
- 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 industry representative bodies.
- 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 industry representative 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.
Surplus funds collected in a given year are held in an industry reserve account which can be drawn on in future years.
The NRS provides each participating industry with an annual financial statement detailing annual operating revenue and expenditure, and the balance of the industry reserve. Additional regular or ad-hoc reporting is available on request through the relevant industry representative body.
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
- 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:
- regulation of residues and contaminants.
The results of NRS residue monitoring programs are routinely 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: 2015 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.