A fungicide recently approved for use by the sugarcane industry in north Queensland may cause cancer and birth defects. The alarm was raised by a recreational fishing group, who argue that the industry cannot prevent contamination of waterways and will therefore put people at risk.

Designed to reduce the damaging effects of a new strain, Orange Rust, on the susceptible cane variety Q124, the National Registration Authority recently provided an emergency OK to the fungicide for short-term use until a more tolerant variety of sugarcane can be planted. Chairman of Sunfish North Queensland, Vern Veitch is appalled however, pointing out that the fungicide has been proved carcinogenic and cannot be entirely controlled.

Ian Ballantyne, general manager of the leading sugar industry group Canegrowers, insists however that Veitch is guilty of  “unjustified scare mongering.”

Ballantyne argues that there are stringent regulations in place to control the use of the fungicide, but the advocacy group have asked federal and state primary industries ministers to revoke their approval of the chemical.

The fungicide is still widely spread on cereal crops across Europe and Queensland, where it is also commonly used by fruit farmers.