Mercury and Sugarcane: How mercury ends up on your dinner plate

The Australian Government warns: Mercury exposure can cause infertility, foetal development effects and mental retardation.

The Australian Government has signed (but not ratified yet) the Minamata Convention in October 2013. 

The Minamata Convention is an international agreement to reduce the global mercury burden in order to protect human health and the environment.

Exposure to mercury - even in small amounts - can cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.

Mercury can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune system, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish. Mercury has been found in higher than average levels on the Great Barrier Reef, where it can also contribute to coral bleaching and death.

Other sources for exposure to mercury are emissions from coal-fired power stations, metal smelters, sugar-cane-mills and disposal of mercury containing products such as used light tubes, thermometers or dental amalgam.

Although mercury-containing fungicides were banned in most countries in the 1970s and 1980s, sugar cane farmers in North Queensland are still allowed to use a mercury containg product, called "Shirtan Liquid Fungicide". 

Mercury persists in the environment and accumulates in the food chain.

The "Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority" (APVMA), the regulatory authority for pesticides in Australia, has recently (7th of May 2019) advised:

"According to our online data base PubCRIS, Shirtan is still registered and the current label states that it is able to be used on Sugar cane in Queensland. More information is available through PubCRIS here https://portal.apvma.gov.au/pubcris
As of today a search of the APVMA website as well as PubCRIS has returned no information of a phase out of Shirtan."