Mouse PLague 21 September 2011
Posted on Thursday, 22 September, 2011
Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (19:40): For two years, parts of my electorate have been battling a mouse plague. Last year it was estimated that there was $80 million of damage on Eyre Peninsula alone. There is a little bit of history in this. In the late 1990s, strychnine was removed as a preferred poison for mouse baiting. Since that time, the recommended poison has been zinc phosphide, which is an S7 poison.
Up until late August, two suppliers of this bait—which is actually poisoned wheat—existed in Australia. What they produce is a finished product. Because this wheat is brought into one point in Australia and then it must be exported back out to every farmer's property, it has to undergo a sterilisation process. This makes the end product very expensive. In fact, it costs $10 a kilogram. The recommended dose is a kilogram per hectare, thus it is $10 per hectare. Many farmers in my district are now planting 4,000 hectares, so it could cost up to $40,000 to bait their paddocks and they may have to do this three or four times a year, depending on the intensity of the mice. The cost of this bait means that farmers under-bait and consequently the problem gets out of hand.
Last year a Western Australian company, 4Farmers, applied to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for an on-farm mixing registration of zinc phosphide. That would mean that the farmers could purchase the concentrate, mix it up on their farms and apply it to their grain, and, because the grain comes off their farm, it would not need sterilisation. That could supply poison to the farmers for about $1.50 a kilogram. After six months, 4Farmers abandoned the attempt because the APVMA in its wisdom had many concerns about farmers handling an S7 chemical. I might point out that farmers all undertake a chemical-handling course, which I have myself, and we are trained to handle S7 poisons. So I do have some concerns with the APVMA in that area, but they do have to make their decisions on scientific grounds.
This season the whole of south-eastern Australia in the cropping region is being overrun by mice, and the two manufacturers in Australia could not keep up. With that in mind, 4Farmers applied to install some regional mixing stations which would allow the farmers to bring in the grain. It would get treated with zinc phosphide and then they would take it out and treat their paddocks. It took some weeks of negotiation, but eventually the APVMA approved the use in late June, and the temporary permit was to last through to the end of September. Part of the deal was that 4Farmers had to nominate how many tonnes they would produce at each site. They did not know how many mice were going to be around so they had a dash at 100 tonnes. The farmers have rushed to the supply points, because it is a cheaper product and it is readily available, and the 100-tonne limits have been broached. Accordingly, 4Farmers went back to the APVMA and applied for a higher tonnage.
It was then that the excreta hit the fan and at this stage those permits have not been forthcoming. I would be the first to admit that 4Farmers had not been exemplary with their paperwork, and that seems to be some of the hang-up with the APVMA. But I ask the question: is there a genuine danger to public health or do we have people who are just hung up on process?
I do not take this as a direct criticism of the APVMA; I believe their riding rules are wrong. There are a number of chemicals they are reassessing across Australia at the moment and recommending to be removed from farmers' use. I do not know all the detail in this case, but I believe that the APVMA should have the ability to take industry concerns into their decisions.
Before the last election, the government said that they would institute a review of the APVMA. We are now 12 months on, and we have not seen this review. I believe that review should allow the APVMA to take industry concerns into account, and to take into account concerns about farmers needing to purchase this grain immediately because they are being eaten out of house and home with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of dollars per day and per week on many of these properties. So I call on the government to bring forward that review and I ask the APVMA to take a generous view of the relicensing of these baiting stations.