18 August 2020

Frequently asked questions about the citrus industry residue testing service

Frequently asked questions about the citrus industry residue testing service 

18 August 2020

Citrus packing houses and growers in Australia are careful to make sure that chemicals used for pest and disease control in Australia are also permitted on citrus in our overseas markets. The practicalities of this are made difficult by the fact that tolerances for chemicals keep changing in our export markets.

Tolerance limits for chemicals in food are called Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs). Because MRLs in citrus can vary between different countries, orchards need to tailor their chemical program around the MRLs of each export market.

To help growers make suitable chemical choices, Citrus Australia collates and regularly updates lists of the MRLs for all chemicals permitted in citrus in our major export markets.

Sometimes changes to export MRLs happen without warning. Planning the season’s pest and disease management program is challenging when export markets suddenly change MRLs mid-season.

Citrus Australia facilitates a citrus residue testing program because exporting growers need certainty that residues on their crop are compliant with the MRLs set by each market.

Why do laboratories offer a selection of multi-residue screens?

Laboratories develop screens to suit the commodities they test: water, soil, wool, meat, milk, grains, fruit and vegetables. Not all screens are relevant to citrus samples. Laboratories keep testing affordable and relevant by including chemicals that match clients’ needs. Sometimes a unique method is required to extract and quantify a particular chemical from a sample, and a separate test is required, adding significant cost to a multi-residue test.

Why send samples from other states to Queensland rather than using a local laboratory?

Symbio Laboratory in Queensland has a large amount of expertise in testing citrus. Over a ten-year period, the laboratory has been subject to proficiency testing with spiked samples to ensure that it can accurately measure chemicals used on citrus. The same laboratory is also testing for the Australian Government National Residue Survey. The laboratory is accredited to screen citrus for more than 200 chemicals and more than 100 key breakdown products. That wide screen of chemicals is very relevant to our major export markets.

What is the difference between requesting tests through Citrus Australia or testing through the National Residue Survey, since Symbio Laboratories services both?

The same chemicals are included in both screens, but Citrus Australia keeps costs down by reducing administration. Participants also have a direct line of contact to the laboratory via Citrus Australia, so we can negotiate and tailor reporting or tests.

What is the difference between testing through Citrus Australia or through FreshTest or through another market agent?

A multi-residue screen for the domestic market is typically cheaper than the Citrus Australia screen, because it includes fewer chemicals. Fruit in the domestic market is only tested for chemicals that are relevant and of interest in the Australian domestic market. Domestic market tests do not include all the chemicals needed to satisfy export markets. Export markets want a broader screen because they import fruit from a wide range of countries and want testing to include chemistry used everywhere, not just chemicals available in Australia and/or used on citrus.

Who sees our results if we send samples via the Citrus Australia program?

Results are sent to the grower or packing house who submitted the sample. Individual results are not sent to Citrus Australia. In fact, if you have an issue and need our help you will have to reach out to us because we don’t know until you ask.

De-identified summary results are sent to Citrus Australia in bulk, to help with industry-wide analysis. There is no grower information in the summary. The bulk data only shows lab codes for samples, so no-one can link any data to an orchard, grower or packer.

If I have a breach are my results shared with export markets?

If the residue in a sample breaches an Australian MRL, the laboratory is obliged under Queensland law to notify the Queensland Government, who then notify officers in the state or territory where the fruit came from.

If the residue exceeds an export MRL, there is no action. Some packers worry that residues are reported to export markets. Under the Citrus Australia testing program that won’t happen, because the laboratory has no detail about your destination markets. Packers are responsible for comparing their results against the MRLs of importing countries, and some packers choose to send the test result to their import agent.

How long do we wait for test results?

Under our contract with Symbio, results are sent within five working days to whoever submitted the sample.

How many patches do I need to test, or samples do I need to send?

That’s entirely up to you, your packer and your agent. The program is to help your business manage MRL risks.

To speak to someone about the Citrus Australia monitoring program contact Alison MacGregor via email alison.macgregor@citrusaustralia.com.au

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