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Report by Syngenta on the importance of Paraquat in Australia

SYNGENTA has commissioned a report into the economic benefits of the use of the herbicide Paraquat, valuing the product's worth to the Australian agriculture sector at $1.3 billion.

The company, which distributes Paraquat under the trade names Gramoxone and Spray Seed, enlisted analysts Deloitte Access Economics to compile the report.

Findings from the report were handed down at an event in Canberra, attended by MPs last week.

Syngenta specialty crops manager Sam Hole said the decision to put the report out was designed as a positive step to highlight Paraquat's contribution to agriculture and the impact of deregistering the product.

The herbicide has a controversial past, because of its high toxicity to humans in its concentrated form and because of its close relationship to the deadly chemical weapon Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.

However, Mr Hole said, like all agricultural chemicals it was safe when used according to the label.

"We're really comfortable with the product, it is under continued rigorous scrutiny by the chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which is regarded worldwide as a science-based organization, and it has not found anything adverse in its usage," Mr Hole said.

Mr Hole said Paraquat was used in over 100 countries across the globe, including New Zealand, Japan and the US.

It is currently banned in Europe, but he accused lobbyists of running an emotive campaign to stop its usage there.

Paraquat plays a critical role in Australian cropping as the only viable break to glyphosate in terms of a pre-cropping knockdown.

Should it be banned, without a differing mode of action, authorities say weeds would quickly become resistant to glyphosate in no-till cropping systems.

Mr Hole also said the use of Paraquat was a win for the environment due to its properties.

"Paraquat deactivates in the soil, so there is no leaching and no run-off into waterways," he said.

However, not everyone is so enamoured with the product.

Scott Kinnear, director of the Safe Food Foundation said Paraquat's impact on human health had not been studied sufficiently.

"There are some real concerns over its impact on health, not only to consumers but to those putting the chemical out," Mr Kinnear said.

"The APVMA terms of reference are too narrow, what we are seeing from studies across the world is that this is a dangerous product."

Mr Hole acknowledged Paraquat was poisonous to humans, but said this was in line with many other chemicals used in agriculture and in broader industry.

"Like any product, it is safe to use when done correctly, and Australia has really good stewardship programs for the use of farm chemicals such as Chem Cert and Ag Safe," Mr Hole said.

Chairman of Grain Producers Australia (GPA) Andrew Weidemann said ongoing access to Paraquat was critical to maintaining production and environmental gains made over the past decade.

"Without Paraquat we really would struggle to grow crops in a no-till system as there is no alternative then to glyphosate, which would mean we'd be back to tillage, which in turn would lower yields and have negative environmental outcomes such as erosion and damaging the soil structure," Mr Weidemann said.

In terms of human health, Mr Weidemann said anyone using the product had been trained how to do so safely.

3rd June 2014  “The Land”

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