AN INTERNATIONALLY recognised highly toxic insecticide will continue to be used widely by Australian horticultural industries, despite New Zealand becoming the most recent country to institute a total ban.
More than 55 countries, including Britain, most other European Union members, and a number of Asian nations including the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea, have outlawed the use of endosulfan as a pesticide for crops.
The New Zealand ban was prompted in part by a number of recent biosafety scares, including unacceptably high residues of the pesticide found in local and imported Australian produce last year. Farmers have been given 12 months to surrender all stockpiles.
In October, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, to which Australia is a signatory, will consider elevating endosulfan to the final stage of assessment. If passed, this would trigger a global ban.
But the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has said that while it is viewing the New Zealand decision "with interest" it would not be revisiting its 2005 review of the chemical's use.
Although that review introduced some restrictions, it ruled endosulfan still safe for use on a variety of crops, including tomatoes, carrots, beans, sweetcorn, peas, cereals, oilseeds, citrus fruit and cotton. This stance has placed Australia in the minority of major economies still using the pesticide, along with the United States, Brazil and India.
The decision has angered campaigners, who have provided the Government with an extensive dossier of research pointing to the pesticide's status as a known hormone disrupter, capable of being handed down to subsequent generations through the placenta and in breast milk. Studies in rats have shown effects on the kidneys, foetus and liver.
Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, the co-chairwoman of the International POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutant) Elimination Network, said endosulfan has been scientifically assessed and met the criteria of a global persistent organic pollutant.
"Endosulfan lingers in the environment and our bodies," she said. "Residues have been found in breast milk and placenta. It is toxic and travels the globe ending up in places far from where it was applied."
Endosulfan has been blamed for more than 100 recent deaths and hundreds more serious birth defects in the southern Indian village of Padre, where the Government has been conducting regular aerial sprays of the pesticide for more than 20 years.
Australia's third largest agribusiness exporter, Nufarm, holds more than one-third of the shares in India's largest endosulfan manufacturer, Excel Industries.
Information provided by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said instituting a ban similar to New Zealand's was unnecessary, because conditions governing endosulfan's use here had always been much tighter.
However, the co-ordinator of the National Toxic Network, Jo Innig, disputes this.
"The reality is the majority of uses in Australia are similar to that in New Zealand and other countries and the toxicity risks are the same no matter which way you look at it."
Late yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, said he would seek a briefing from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority on the difference between Australia and New Zealand's use of the pesticide.