The Senate committee investigating the proposal to import potatoes from New Zealand for processing handed down its report yesterday sharing industry’s disappointment and lack of confidence in the work conducted by the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Biosecurity Department.
“Yesterday’s report vindicates growers’ concerns from the beginning that the Department needs to act in the interest of Australia’s vegetable growers and not submit to threats of WTO action by our global neighbours,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager, William Churchill.
In 2012 AUSVEG was stunned by comments made by the Department of Agriculture’s Chief Plant Protection Officer that ‘science was not on the industry’s side’ and the industry was resorting to an “emotional argument”.
“It was offensive to have the concerns of industry so casually dismissed by the Department but the report released by the Senate committee shows that the vegetable industry is not alone in its views,” said Mr Churchill.
The Zebra Chip disease complex has been ravaging the New Zealand potato industry since 2008, however, Australia is currently free of the disease that has caused by industry estimates in excess of $200 million in damages to the NZ industry.
The Senate committee recommended that a new Import Risk Analysis (IRA) be conducted again by the Department, paying particular attention to disease pathways into Australia, a lack of reliable diagnostic testing for the Zebra Chip bacteria and greater consideration be given to other pests and diseases in New Zealand.
“AUSVEG welcomes any opportunity to work more closely with the Department to ensure a more thorough IRA to be conducted and that all available science is considered and that no stone is left unturned when it comes to understanding this pest. It must be comprehensive scientific understanding and rigorous biosecurity protocols that will keep the Psyllid out of Australia,” said Mr Churchill.
Questions have surrounded the Department of Agriculture’s method for assessing biosecurity risks for some time now with yesterday’s report delivering similar findings for ginger and pineapple growers.
“The government has long recognised the issues surrounding Import Risk Analyses, the way they are conducted, and the rigour applied. They have committed to developing a more robust IRA process as part of their election policy and yesterday’s report shows that there is bi-partisan support for a stronger biosecurity system,” said Mr Churchill.