Bad chemistry campaign

You don’t need a doctorate in chemistry to see there’s something wrong with regulation of chemicals in Australia.
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  • Updated:11 Jan 2010

01 .Consumer chemistry set


With an election just around the corner, what do we want from the federal government when it comes to chemicals?

The past year has seen choice uncover more than a handful of unfinished business for nanotechnology, pesticide and plastics regulation in Australia. Risky plastic packaging, undeclared and safety unproven nanometals, old risky pesticides like endosulfan, roach bait ingredients that are banned overseas.

A consumer friendly chemicals policy would:


  • Require labelling of consumer products that have nanomaterials in them, so consumers are given the right to choose.
  • Make the roll-out of nanomaterials evidence-based - with materials proven safe before being let into the market.


  • Phase-out unnecessary uses of risky plastics like PVC and Polycarbonate in children's products and food packaging.
  • Require labelling of all plastics so consumers are given the right to choose.


  • Reform and adequately fund the APVMA so it works for the public, not the chemicals industry.
  • Review with modern science old chemicals and ones banned in countries similar to Australia.

Have your say 

What would you add to our consumer chemistry set? Have your say: email us at or write to CHOICE Campaigns, 57 Carrington Road Marrickville NSW 2204. 


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 The issue:

Chemicals need firmer controls

Pesticide residues

CHOICE found strawberries contaminated with pesticide residues. We found some chemicals in higher concentrations than legally allowed and some that just shouldn’t be there at all.


Australia and Europe - two different stories

You can buy household pesticide products in Australia that use active ingredients that are no longer registered for use in the European Union.


Review process

The broad-spectrum insecticide maldison (also called malathion) has been under official review since 2003 because of concerns about its toxicity. Six years later, there’s no sign of the review being finalised.




What we want

CHOICE firmly believes the onus should be on manufacturers to prove efficacy and safety, not on consumers to prove harm. We must take a precautionary approach for the sake of our health and the environment.

The regulation of chemicals in Australia needs an overhaul to ensure effective products reach the market while protecting the health and safety of consumers, workers and our environment.

CHOICE has a strong history of protecting consumer safety, and we’re determined to fight for a better system of checks and balances for safe chemical use.

Regulatory Review for chemicals used in food production, and in our homes and gardens and on our pets

The national regulatory framework for agricultural and veterinary chemicals is under review. We're currently writing a submission to the Product Safety and Integrity Committee (PSIC). You can now read a little about the review at the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry website here

CHOICE wants to see a thorough shakeup that includes a complete restructure of the regulator the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. CHOICE wants to see it strengthened to become an independent statutory body, free from the influence of the chemicals industry.

In an earlier submission for the PSIC review, and in discussions with the review's consultants, these are the major things that we’re calling for:

  1. A new regulator with pre and post registration of chemicals administered within the same agency. 
  2. Apply the precautionary principle. If banned in other major developed countries, chemicals should not be allowed in Australia.
  3. ‘No data, no market’ should apply to registrations, with firm cut-offs and stipulations on the sourcing and types of acceptable supporting data.
  4. Better labelling of chemicals. Labels should be approved for several years at a time only, and require updates. They should be clear, short and appropriate to users.
  5. Sunset registrations. Chemicals to receive a time-limited registration, of 10 years, after which their suitability is reviewed against modern science.
  6. Substitution of softer chemicals. Where new, effective, softer chemicals exist, then old chemicals should be withdrawn and replaced with these softer options.
  7. Remove the regulator’s funding collection role. Levies and oversight of global budget to be administered by the Department of Finance. Funding should be indexed to the rate of inflation.

Read CHOICE's submission here.

We’re not happy with the review so far, so in September 2009 we wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke. We emphasized the need to have a precautionary approach to chemical and nanotechnology regulation and complained that the stakeholder engagement process is flawed:

  1. The timeframe for the review – over the summer holiday period – is unsatisfactory and will prevent meaningful stakeholder responses
  2. There is no website to show information about the review, its progress, and invite and display submissions. 
  3. Insufficient effort is being made to reach the range of stakeholders, particularly in the community sector.

Read our letter in full here. Minister Burke has not yet responded to this letter.


While the risk is low there’s growing evidence that food can be contaminated by risky plastics used in some wraps and cans.

Polycarbonate containers and cans lined with epoxy resin can release release bisphenol A ( BPA) which has been linked with serious health issues including an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Another risky plastic is PVC because of chemicals called plasticisers which are added to it to make it flexible and soft. Plasticisers can migrate from the PVC into the food.

CHOICE is calling on the food industry to phase out the use of potentially hazardous forms of plastics in baby products and food packaging. Read the full CHOICE story here .

1. Send Choice your risky packaging

Send us your rinsed examples of risky plastic food packaging and baby products: ones you can't identify, or ones market 3 (PVC) or 7 (a catch-all category which includes polycarbonate). We'll present them to health minister Nicola Roxon as part of the campaign for action on harmful chemicals.

Plastic Packaging
Reply Paid 63261
Marrickville NSW 2204

2. Reduce your exposure

You can take steps to reduce your exposure to the controversial chemicals by: 

  • Avoiding plastic food packaging and baby products made from plastics you can’t identify. 
  • Avoid food packaging and baby products with the voluntary identification codes 3 (PVC) and 7 (a catch-all category which includes polycarbonate). 
  • Avoid PVC cling film, which we found being used by some supermarkets and many independent greengrocers and butchers to wrap fresh meat and fruit and vegetables. 
  • Consider cutting down on canned foods.
Your say - Choice voice

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