Australian beef has been rejected for export because of excessive residues of endosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide. A representative of the Australian Minister of Agriculture stated that high endosulfan levels in beef from farms in New South Wales and Queensland are most likely the result of increased cotton plantings and high pesticide use to control insects. Endosulfan residues can be found in cattle when pastures are contaminated by pesticide drift from neighboring cotton fields or when the animals are fed cotton gin trash containing the chemical. Cotton plantings are expected to increase by 25% this year, to approximately 547,000 hectares.
The maximum residue level of endosulfan allowed in beef sold in Australia is 0.2 mg/kg, twice the international (Codex) level of 0.1 mg/kg. Some beef samples taken from affected properties in Queensland recently contained as much as 0.36 mg/kg, almost twice the Australian limit and almost four times the international limit.
The Australian National Residue Survey has already targeted about 1,400 cattle farms as vulnerable to contamination from cotton spraying and the cattle raised on these farms are closely monitored for endosulfan residues. The government has proposed an increase in the number of targeted farms and that more information on use of endosulfan be provided to cotton and cattle farmers.
The Australian National Registration Authority, the government body that regulates pesticide use, has called for reductions in endosulfan use and imposed some restrictions in an attempt to limit worker and environmental impacts. In July 1999, growers will be required to keep spray application records and limit applications to two per season for non-orchard crops. An earlier proposal to limit applications to “essential” uses was dropped after lobbying by growers, grower groups and commodity organizations.
These latest incidents occurred at a time when the Australian cotton industry was about to launch its “Good Neighbors” environmental stewardship program. Cotton Australia, the cotton industry association, has proposed an auditing process that would award certification to farms meeting environmental standards set by the group.
In 1996, approximately 23 farms in New South Wales and Queensland were placed in quarantine after inspectors discovered endosulfan in beef cattle at levels above the maximum residue limit, possibly due to grazing land that had been contaminated by spray drift. Lawyers for the farmers maintained that restrictions on endosulfan use issued by the Australian National Registration Authority were inadequate.
Endosulfan has been banned and severely restricted in many countries around the world as governments respond to its acute human toxicity, and the high numbers of reported poisonings. It has been targeted for global phaseout by pesticide reform groups worldwide. In recent years, endosulfan has also been identified as an endocrine disrupting chemical.
Australia has had other problems with pesticide residues in cattle. In 1996, newborn calves in Australia were found contaminated with hazardous levels of the insecticide Helix (chlorfluazuron) two years after cattle were fed cotton trash containing residues of the pesticide. Government inspectors believed that the pesticide was passed to calves through suckling. After finding high levels of Helix in the cattle, several countries suspended beef imports from Australia. Due to a drought in 1994, many Australian farmers were forced to feed cattle alternative feeds, which in some cases included cotton trash containing chlorfluazuron residues.