2017 March + 2017 May: Chemical Contamination: Tainted Herbicide Shock. Pesticides: Propachlor, Prometryn, Metolachlor, Atrazine

My location
Get Directions

Chemical crop contamination: Tainted herbicide shock

EXCLUSIVE: HUNDREDS of farmers across Australia have unwittingly contaminated their crops with tainted herbicides.

The Weekly Times can reveal 200,000 litres of contaminated herbicides had been in supply stores for up to two years, with little effort made by agrochemical companies to inform farmers about the tainted products.

The Weekly Times understands the herbicides were contaminated at manufacturer Accensi’s Brisbane plant, when equipment was allegedly not properly cleaned and a cocktail of chemicals contaminated the product.

Investigations reveal major agrochemical companies Nufarm, Crop Care — which is owned by Nufarm — and Syngenta recalled the contaminated herbicides on December 8, 2016 and January 20 this year, but chose not to publicise the recalls.

The three companies did not advertise the recalls in media outlets or publish media releases about the recalls, which are all recommendations in recall guidelines of the Federal Government’s chemical watchdog, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

The Weekly Times can reveal the APVMA also made little or no effort to inform farmers about the recall.

The AVPMA chose not to publish the recalls on its website and did not make contact with farmers, despite knowing the companies had recalled the tainted herbicide. Instead, suppliers and distributors were left with the responsibility of informing growers.

READ MORE: VEGETATIVE STATE ON RECALL

Farmers who bought the herbicides told The Weekly Times they had not been contacted and had been using them months after recalls were made.

There are fears farmers are still spraying the contaminated herbicides — Ramrod Flowable (Propachlor), Gesagard (Prometryn) and Primextra Gold (Metolachlor/Atrazine) — which are used to control weeds on vegetable and grain crops, pasture and perennial grasses.

With many farmers unaware of the problem, residual testing cannot take place, meaning the contamination’s impact on produce and consumers is unknown.

But The Weekly Times can reveal the contaminated herbicides have costs farmers millions of dollars in crop losses and soil damage and at least five farmers are taking legal action against the chemical companies.

Farmers who have been using the contaminated herbicides but did not want to be named, said it was the worst thing to happen to their businesses. They said they had spent months, and in some cases years, trying to figure out why their crops were dying or not performing.

“A contaminated herbicide is the very last thing I would think of,” one farmer said.

“Every crop we had applied it on, crop after crop, has been affected and in many cases we lost 100 per cent of crops.

“It has caused us so much pain and stress … we are farmers, you know, and don’t deserve this.”

Shepparton agricultural consultant David Bell has been working with some growers to assess the herbicide contamination’s damage to crops and the residual effect on future crops, and to calculate financial losses.

EDITORIAL: COVER-UP DAMAGES OUR IMAGE

Documents seen by The Weekly Times show Nufarm and Crop Care recalled 120,000 litres of Ramrod Flowable herbicide on December 8, 2016, while Syngenta recalled 40,000 litres of Gesagard herbicide and 40,000 litres of Primextra Gold herbicide on January 20, 2017.

Twelve batches of Ramrod Flowable were contaminated, with the first contaminated batch manufactured in February 2015, while four batches of Gesagard were contaminated, with the first contaminated batch manufactured in March 2016.

Primextra Gold was contaminated in four batches, with the first contaminated batch manufactured in August 2015.

The three contaminated herbicides were in supply stores for three to 24 months.

An agronomist who has seen the damage caused by the contaminated herbicides, but did not want to be named, said he couldn’t understand why Nufarm, Crop Care and Syngenta hadn’t done more to contact farmers about the recalls.

“It seems like they’ve tried to cover it up in a bid to avoid compensation … it’s just not right,” he said.

“Farmers don’t have time to be checking the internet for this kind of information, it needs to be communicated in public formats, and phone calls from the companies should be made.”

A Syngenta spokeswoman said contaminated batches of Gesagard and Primextra Gold were voluntarily withdrawn and therefore did not require media advertising. “Given the extremely low levels of contaminants, in consultation with the APVMA, it was decided the most appropriate course of action was to voluntarily withdraw identified batches through distributors,” the spokeswoman said.

“Syngenta has worked closely with the APVMA, distributors, growers and other parties to promptly work towards finding a solution to any issue that has arisen.”

A Nufarm and Crop Care spokesman said the companies became aware of low-level contamination in its Ramrod herbicide in November 2016 after conducting testing.

He said the companies worked with rural merchandise stores to remove affected product and identify farmers that had used the product.

“Crop Care worked with AUSVEG and Horticulture Innovation Australia to directly inform growers of the issue,” the spokesman said.

“A web page was created on the Crop Care website.”

READ MORE: CHEMICALS MAY POSE SERIOUS RISK TO PLANTS

The spokesman was confident all farmers were aware of the recall and said the company had not received any new reports of crop damage since January but confirmed an independent loss adjuster had been appointed to manage compensation cases.

The agrochemical companies would not answer questions about the manufacturer, Accensi, and would not say if they continue to have herbicides manufactured at the Brisbane plant. Accensi did not return calls for comment.

The APVMA, despite being the regulatory body, handballed most questions about the recalls to the agrochemical companies. A spokeswoman said the APVMA does not publish details of voluntary recalls on its website and had not made contact with farmers about the recalls, because it was not its role.

Charles Hart of Shepparton lawyers Dawes and Vary Riordan said if a farmer suffered a loss as a result of crop damage caused by contaminated herbicide then, generally speaking, the farmer will be entitled to recover any financial damages.

“Determining the quantum of any damage can be complex and farmers should seek advice,” a firm spokesman said.

A MAJOR herbicide recall is under way, sparking concerns Australia’s clean and green vegetable industry could be in jeopardy.

The Weekly Times can reveal agrochemical giant Syngenta is recalling 60,000 litres of Gesagard, one of the most common herbicides sprayed on Australian vegetables — including carrots, celery, leaks and peas — to control weeds.

This comes just months after Syngenta recalled 80,000 litres of contaminated herbicides and assured farmers the contamination was an “isolated incident”, and that further herbicides, including Gesagard, had been “rigorously” tested and met “stringent quality standards”.

Documents seen by The Weekly Times show the 60,000 litres of Gesagard were allegedly contaminated during the manufacturing process at Accensi in Brisbane and contained chemicals such as atrazine.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website says atrazine is “toxic to many vegetables”.

The tainted Gesagard has been on retail shelves and unwittingly sprayed by Australian farmers for up to 3½ years.

The Weekly Times can also reveal Syngenta continued to sell batches of Gesagard despite knowing they were contaminated.

RELATED COVERAGE: WRONGED GROWERS HIT HARD

Documents seen by The Weekly Times show that on April 24 Syngenta received test results from Agrisolutions, an independent chemical testing company, that found at least 10,000 litres of Gesagard were contaminated.

But on May 8, Syngenta told The Weekly Times Gesagard batches that had been tested were not contaminated.

On the same day The Weekly Times questioned the APVMA about the Gesagard contamination, but the government chemical regulator would not comment.

The Weekly Times informed Syngenta last Friday it intended to publish a story about the contamination. Only then did Syngenta confirm 60,000 litres of Gesagard was contaminated. A Syngenta spokeswoman said the Gesagard had been “recently” recalled, but would not provide the exact date.

The spokeswoman said the recall had been communicated to Syngenta’s customers but a major outlet said it was not aware of the recall.

One retailer, who did not want to be named, said Syngenta told him a month ago Gesagard was not contaminated.

Neither APVMA nor Syngenta’s websites contain any information about the Gesagard recall. Gesagard is sold in 20-litre drums and was still for sale in a retail store in Victoria on Saturday.

This is the second major herbicide contamination recall in Australia this year.