European canola buyers have ordered Australian farmers to stop using an insecticide on their crops if they want to keep selling into the market.

Farmers fear it is the first step to banning a range of chemicals, such as glyphosate, which are legal in Australia but not accepted in Europe.

One peak farming body said the move could breach international trade rules.

Last week, WA grain company Cooperative Group Handling (CBH) Group wrote to growers telling them to stop using omethoate if they had signed up to a European accreditation scheme that gave canola producers a premium.

It angered local farmers because omethoate, used most commonly to kill red-legged earth mite, is legal and approved for use by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

APVMA reviewed omethoate in 2016 and banned it from being used in home gardens and on some horticulture crops, but allowed its continued use for red-legged earth mite.

“Omethoate is approved for use in Australia and is safe to use according to the updated label instructions,” an APVMA spokeswoman said.

Le Mat is the commercial name for omethoate, and its label says it can be used on pastures, cereals such as wheat and oilseeds such as canola.

Scheme created to ensure supply

Europe is the largest buyer of Australian canola, most of which comes from WA and South Australia.

The European Union prefers non-genetically modified (GM) canola, giving Australia an edge over its biggest competitor, Canada, which grows only GM canola.

WA’s canola exports are worth about $800 million a year and almost all sold by CBH group.

Le Mat is considered better for the environment than other alternative insecticides.(ABC News: Clint Jasper)

For about a decade, CBH has encouraged growers to become accredited under the EU’s International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) scheme, it currently offers a $10 a tonne premium for canola grown under this program.

It was designed to help the EU meet a renewable energy directive.

CBH said most WA canola growers were ISCC-accredited, requiring them to declare they meet requirements such as safe chemical use and good soil management practices.

When it first promoted the scheme to its grower members, CBH offered a $5-per-tonne premium.

‘We are forced to listen to them’

The letter sent to ISCC-accredited growers last week said omethoate, known as Le Mat, must not be used anywhere on the farm this season for crops already planted.

However, CBH has since admitted this information was incorrect.

But the company said ISCC accreditation required growers to prove they planned to phase out the use of Le Mat by 2023.

CBH spokesman Trevor Lucas said meeting the requirements were essential to being able to sell to the EU, and asked farmers to let them know if they were using Le Mat this season and whether they planned to phase it out.

“We understand growers’ concerns about not being able to use omethoate, but the European market is extremely important for WA growers; we have been selling grain there for 10 years under ISCC accreditation,” Mr Lucas said.

“It’s a market-access requirement.”

APVMA bans use of omethoate on canola and other food crops
Australia has banned the use of omethoate on food crops.(ABC Esperance: Tara De Landgrafft)

Could a glyphosate ban be next?

WA Farmers grains spokesman Mark Fowler said members had strong objections to the move and it could be classified as a trade barrier.

“What was introduced as a $5 premium for selling canola is now something akin to a trade barrier,” Mr Fowler said.

He said most grain traders would not buy canola that was not ISCC-accredited.

“We will not accept that.”

ISCC has been contacted for comment.

Last year, CBH introduced the same ISCC accreditation for barley and shipped the first load of the “sustainable barley” to Vietnam in April.



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