Australia is not the only country in Asia to produce food with high levels of arsenic, but Australia’s farmers are the first to be exposed to the chemicals, researchers say.
AgriWorld Australia, a trade body representing the country’s farming and food industries, says about 4 per cent of Australia’s agricultural land is currently contaminated with arsenic.
It is the highest proportion of the world’s agriculture population that is, and the most common form of arsenic exposure.
Agritoday AgriLife Australia (AGLEA), the industry association, said arsenic exposure was found in some of the worst affected regions.
AGEA chief executive Michael Taylor said it was difficult to quantify how much of the nation’s food was being produced in Australia with a high concentration of the compound.
“It’s a global issue and it affects people in every country, so we know that in Australia, particularly those farmers who grow crops and are responsible for the bulk of Australias food, we need to be very careful,” Mr Taylor said.
In Australia, arsenic has been found in the soil in areas where the soil is organic, and also in the food supply of consumers. “
We have a lot of areas that have very low concentrations of arsenic but that’s not always the case.”
In Australia, arsenic has been found in the soil in areas where the soil is organic, and also in the food supply of consumers.
“In the past we’ve seen the Australian government produce some really good science to be able to take arsenic out of food, but that science is now being used to say that arsenic is not necessarily a good thing to have in your food,” Mr Tarrant said.
Agribusiness groups said the use of arsenic as a pesticide in Australia was “unacceptable”.
“We are deeply concerned about the use and widespread use of this pesticide in agriculture, which has resulted in a widespread reduction of native plants and animals and the degradation of natural habitats,” the Australian Sustainable Food Alliance said in a statement.
“We urge the Australian Government to immediately cease and reverse its use of the pesticides and to immediately release the toxic compounds into the environment and avoid contamination.”
AgriFood and Agri Safety Australia said in an email to The Australian that arsenic contamination had not been found on the ground in Australia.
It said “a number of areas of Australia” were currently being treated with arsenic for its own “precautionary and regulatory purposes”.
“While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact amount of arsenic currently on the Australian food supply, a significant proportion of Australia has arsenic in its soil, in some areas of the Murray Darling Basin,” the email said.
A GEA spokeswoman said the company did not comment on “industry rumours” or “industries media”.
“The current level of arsenic in the environment is extremely low, which means there are no human health effects,” she said.
In an email, Mr Taylor acknowledged that Australia’s agriculture had become more contaminated with pesticides in recent years.
“As we look to the future, we want to make sure that our agricultural systems are not negatively impacted and that we are also able to protect our water supply from contamination,” he said.
But Mr Taylor added that “the use of pesticides is not sustainable and can only be managed in conjunction with other actions that we have taken, including by limiting use of chemical fertilisers”.
“Agriculture is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia and there is no evidence to suggest that the use or use of any other agricultural products is associated with higher levels of greenhouse gases.”