2020 October: Contaminated Gibberellic Acid – Sunraysia Region (Victoria) – Clopyralid

The Weekly Times October 14 2020

P1 Killer Chemicals Table-grape producers to sue Chinese company over contaminated spray.

A group of Australian table grape growers are preparing to go up against a Chinese state-owned chemical giant in a legal battle for millions of dollars in compensation after a contaminated chemical destroyed their vines.

And The Weekly Times can reveal it took chemical company ADAMA more than three months to recall the product after being alerted to issues associated with it – a decision the industry fears could have jeopardised Australian access to lucrative export markets, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

An investigation by The Weekly Times can also reveal:

As LEAST 11 growers are seeking more than $7 million in compensation from ADAMA after its Gibberellic Acid, used to promote fruit growth, was found to contain Clopyralid, a weed killer toxic to table grapes and not registered for use on fruit.

Damage from the contaminated Gibberellic Acid was brought to ADAMA’s attention in October 2018. However, the company did not recall the product until February 13, 2019 – about two weeks after growers started harvesting their table grapes.

The Federal Government body responsible for policing chemical companies, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which is funded by the companies it regulates, is yet to complete its investigation into the incident, more than 20 months after the recall.

New table-grape varieties that were grown as part of a trial by Australia’s leading science agency, CSIRO, were damaged by the contaminated chemical, but it is understood CSIRO is not taking legal action.

One table grape grower, who did not want to be named, said the contaminated Gibberellic Acid had “crippled” his family’s business…

Most of the 11 growers who sprayed the contaminated chemical have or are in the process of pulling out their vines because they were so badly damaged.

Eight growers, mostly located in the Sunraysia district where most of the country’s table grapes are grown, have begun legal action in the Victorian County Court against ADAMA and the retailer they bought the Gibberellic Acid from National Agricultural Services.

Court documents show these growers were seeking about $3.8 million in loss and damages but it is now understood ongoing losses now mean they are now seeking more than $7 million.

Solicitor Tyler Wolff, who is representing most of the growers, said they had lost three to four years worth of income.

It has hit the smaller growers really hard and put emotional strain on their business and family life. Some have had to sell permanent water while they wait for money to come in,” he said. “It has hit the bigger growers hard as they haven’t been able to pursue opportunities such as expanding their operations….

Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president Emma Germano said there should not be a “culture of secrecy” and there were “clearly deficiencies in the system” around recalling contaminated chemicals that needed to be addressed for the sake of Australia’s “clean green image.”…

Ms Germano raised concerns about the agriculture chemical industry’s regulator APVMA, being majority funded by the companies it regulates.

“Is it truly an independent regulator? If it’s not we have to ask the Government to resource this differently. Clearly we need something that is a bit more rigorous,” she said.

ADAMA which is owned by ADAMA Agricultural Solutions, a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned ChemChina, did not answer questions from The Weekly Times.

Neither did National Agricultural Services.

At the time of the recall, ADAMA claimed a labelling issue occurred to the tail end of the batch of Gibberellic Acid, during the manufacturing process conducted by a third party.

The Weekly Times understands the third party was Autopak, an agriculture chemical manufacturer in NSW. Autopak did not respond to questions.

The APVMA said it was unable to comment “on matters currently under investigation”.

In 2019-20 the APVMA received 280 allegations against the companies it regulates and from these referred two for prosecution and provided nine with formal warnings.