Australian Cadmium Minimisation Strategy

By August 9th, 2017


Australia has adopted a strategy to maintain safe levels of cadmium in its agricultural soils and produce: an important move in ensuring safe food for Australians and a competitive edge for our agricultural exports.

The National Cadmium Minimisation Strategy (NCMS), working under the Primary Industries Standing Committee (formerly SCARM), provides a consistent and coordinated program to address issues related to the control of cadmium in soils and crops.

A National Cadmium Management Committee (NCMC) comprising representatives of all States, the Commonwealth, CSIRO, the National Farmers’ Federation and the Fertilizer Industry Federation of Australia was established in 2002 to implement the NCMS. The Committee reported regularly to Primary Industries Standing Committee on the success of the strategy.

The NCMC ceased to operate as of December 2006 – having achieved all of its initial aims plus additional aims that arose during the term of the Committee.


  • The key elements of the National Cadmium Minimisation Strategy are:
    development of Best Management Practices for the production and processing of agricultural produce for those industries and/or areas which have an existing or potential problem with cadmium levels in their produce.
  • development of a Code of Practice by the fertiliser industry to target low cadmium fertiliser to those areas/industries which have an existing or potential cadmium problem.
  • continued commitment by all states to reduce the regulated maximum level of cadmium (Cd) in phosphatic fertilisers to a practical and safe minimum.
  • all states to consider the labelling of fertilisers and soil ameliorants, to alert growers to their cadmium content.

About Cadmium

Cadmium is a naturally occurring element. Although cadmium is present at low concentrations in all soils, its accumulation in soil and hence through the food chain may lead to a health risk in humans.

Cadmium can cause health problems in humans after long-term exposure. It accumulates in the body, principally in the kidneys, leading to gradual renal dysfunction if exposure is high over a long period. While cadmium can induce effects on organs other than the kidneys, the effects generally occur at doses higher than those associated with renal effects. Population-based studies in Japan and Belgium have shown a clear relationship between indicators of renal dysfunction and environmental and occupational exposure to cadmium.

The average intake of cadmium in the Australian diet is also well within safe limits set by health authorities. While it is anticipated that the Australian population is unlikely to experience cadmium-related health problems, the potential for any increased health risk should be addressed. Cadmium is recognised internationally as a potential health risk and the World Health Organization has established guidelines for a ‘tolerable’ level of intake.

In Australia, natural levels of cadmium in the soil are low by world standards. Phosphate fertiliser has been a major source of cadmium additions to agricultural soil in Australia. The Australian fertiliser industry has made significant reductions in the cadmium contents in fertilisers over the last 10 years. It now uses rock phosphate with lower cadmium concentrations for local manufacture.

In recent years, the practice of adding sewage biosolids and green wastes to soils in Australia through recycling has also contributed to cadmium levels. Together with the effects of long-term fertiliser use, this has the potential to increase the level of cadmium in Australian food above the maximum concentrations acceptable to health authorities, with consequent implications for human health and international trade. /p>

Australia, through Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has prescribed maximum levels (MLs) for cadmium in food commodities. MLs have been set to be consistent with public health and safety and to be reasonably achievable from a sound production and natural resource management perspective. Consideration has also been given to Australia’s and New Zealand’s international trade obligations under the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and Technical Barrier to Trade Agreement.

Many soil and management factors influence the extent to which agricultural crops take up cadmium. These include crop type and variety, soil acidity and salinity, irrigation water quality, fertiliser history and management. For crops such as potatoes and grain legumes, guidelines are available to farmers to assist in minimising cadmium uptake. Avoiding soils and waters with high salinity is one example.