Harmonising the off-label use of agricultural chemicals in Australia by 2019?
Presently, pesticide use in Australia varies between the states because each state has responsibility for how they are used. While some commonality of uses has evolved since the early 2000s, there continues to be differences between the states as to what is allowed, as seen in Table 1.
Table 1. Existing agricultural chemical product off-label use regulation (ACTG discussion paper)
a For all uses except herbicides and vertebrate animal controls i.e. different plant pests than stated on the label may not be treated.
b Only for use on a different crop under certain limited and specified conditions via the South Australian Horticulture Exemption Scheme.
The two key areas of inconsistency that still exist between states and territories are:
- The use of products on commodities or in situations not listed on the approved label –
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and New South Wales (NSW) do not allow the use of herbicides on weeds that are not on the approved label or permit. However, NSW does allow this practice for insecticides and fungicides.
- The use of application equipment that is not listed on the approved label –
prohibited in NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.
This has created inefficiencies which the Productivity Commission brought to the Federal Government’s attention in 2008. In 2017 a discussion paper on the national harmonisation of off-label use was produced by the Agvet Chemical Task Group (ACTG). Public submission period ended on 28 February 2018 and it is hoped that harmonisation will be achieved by the end of 2018 – http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/ag-vet-chemicals/domestic-policy/off-label-use-harmonisation-proposal .
Current differing pesticide use legislation between the states and territories leads to:
- Potential loss or restriction in international markets due to the absence of a single consistent national approach to managing chemical use.
- Confusion amongst users operating across state and territory borders such as spray contractors, pesticide suppliers and agronomists. This can lead to misadvising customers and break pesticide use regulations.
- Additional costs for agricultural chemical users who operate across borders due to inconsistent regulation. For example, resellers may need to carry a wider range of agricultural chemicals to remain compliant when advising and selling to their clients in different states.
Developing crops such as chia ( Salvia hispanica )(above) have very few pesticide registrations so the temptation is to go “off-label”. There are currently only two insecticides registered for use on Chia as well as 6 herbicide permits and 14 insecticide permits. These permits are for employees, contracted growers, or persons operating under the direction of Chia Australia Pty Ltd only. Image: AGRONOMO.
Herbicide damage on Chia.Limited registrations and permits can lead to significant crop damage and grower frustration. Image: AGRONOMO.
So what is off-label use?
Off-label use is the decision to use an agricultural chemical to address a specific issue that is not covered by the APVMA approved label or permit.
Wilful misuse , on the other hand, represents an active or negligent disregard for all instructions and legal requirements with no consideration of the risks.
Overcoming these hurdles?
A range of options has been proposed to achieve harmonisation and the details of these can be found in Appendix 3 of the ACTG’s Off-label use harmonisation proposal discussion paper – http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/ag-food/agvet/off-label-use-harmonisation-proposal.pdf
Off-label practices do not exclude or override product maximum residue levels, work health and safety or environmental safety. If going off-label, the decisions the user must consider include the rate of pesticide; time and frequency of application; the likelihood of residues; and the potential for worker exposure.
Story and photos courtesy of Andrew Storrie – AGRONOMO consulting