Establishing residue limits for chemicals and contaminants

International standards

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is attached to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. It sets international standards for food commodities and aims to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade arena.

Read more about the Codex.

National standards

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) share responsibilities in relation to maximum residue limits (MRLs).

The APVMA leads the process for setting MRLs for foods produced in Australia. The APVMA assesses Agvet chemicals for use and sets MRLs after evaluating a chemical product’s chemistry, metabolism, analytical methodology and residue trial data. Permitted limits are set well below the level that would be harmful, so a residue level slightly above the limit may indicate misuse but is very unlikely to pose a health risk. The APVMA MRL standard applies to domestically produced foods.

FSANZ also sets the maximum limits for contaminants and natural toxicants for specified substances in food products under schedule 20 to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Limits have been set under this standard where there is a potential risk to public health and safety if the prescribed limits are exceeded.

Read more about the APVMA and FSANZ.

Queensland standards

  • The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 adopts the contaminant standards for heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine chemicals from schedule 19 and schedule 21 to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code as the acceptable levels for contaminants in animal and plant food commodities.
  • The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 also sets permitted levels for contaminants in animal feeds and fertilisers through the Code of practice for feed for food producing animals and the Code of practice for the naming and describing of fertilisers and for the levels of contaminants in fertilisers. The Chemical Usage (Agricultural and Veterinary) Control Regulation 2017 adopts the APVMA MRL standard as the maximum residue limits for human foods derived from agricultural produce and food-producing species animals.
  • Some of the residue limits are set in the legislation or are linked to the APVMA MRL standard. Contaminant residue levels are in the food standards code.

Monitoring residues and contaminants

  • FSANZ conducts the Australian Total Diet Survey, which monitors residues and contaminants in table-ready foods and estimates human dietary exposure to these chemicals.
  • The National Residue Survey monitors the residues and contaminants in food agricultural commodities intended for human consumption.
  • State, territory, retailer and grower groups also monitor residue levels in food commodities.
  • State agriculture agencies may also monitor residue and contaminant levels in animal feed and fertilisers.

Read more about the National Residue Survey.

National chemical residue monitoring programs

National Residue Survey

The National Residue Survey is funded by industry and administered by the Australian Government. A number of targeted programs are designed to specifically assess the levels of chemicals and contaminants in some commodities from areas or farms that have a higher risk of chemical residues and contaminants.

National Organochlorine Residue Management (NORM) program

NORM is a joint initiative of the Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Lot Feeders Association, state departments of primary industries (or equivalent), and the Australian Department of Agriculture.

The program aims to reduce the occurrence of organochlorine chemical contaminants (such as dieldrin, DDT, heptachlor, and BHC) in beef products. These chemicals were legally used in the past as pest control agents in agricultural production systems and for termite control in farm and domestic buildings. They have been progressively banned from agriculture mainly because of their persistence in the environment and animal tissues.

Find out more about the NORM program.

National Antimicrobial Residue Minimisation (NARM) program

NARM is also a joint initiative between the cattle industry and the Commonwealth and state governments. The program is coordinated by the National Residue Survey (NRS) and operates within states and territories under the control of SAFEMEAT.

The program aims to minimise antibacterial residues through quality assurance, extension, regulation and targeted testing of vealer (bobby) calves.

These programs aim to increase the awareness of producers, processors and other industry groups of the risk to trade associated with the detection of antibacterial residues above the MRL in meat. This increased awareness is designed to help the beef and veal industries to minimise antibacterial residue contamination levels of cows, feedlot cattle, bulls and bobby calves.

Learn more about the NARM program.

Chemical residue and contaminant surveillance

Biosecurity Queensland samples and analyses Queensland-produced agricultural produce to monitor and minimise the levels of chemical residues and contaminants in plant and animal products from Queensland.

Chemical and contaminant monitoring programs support access to markets and confirm Queensland's status as a producer of clean food. The programs encourage good agricultural practices, help to identify any potential problems and indicate where corrective action may be required.

Biosecurity Queensland takes targeted samples for laboratory analysis. If a sample is found to contain chemical residues or contaminant levels higher than the maximum acceptable levels, or residues from the use of an unregistered chemical, the commodity is traced back to its source. Investigation into the cause of the unacceptable levels of chemicals or contaminants, including the degree of compliance with the instructions on the registered product label or contaminant standards for feeds or fertilisers, is conducted.

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