Claims made today by a Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) representative in in the media have been undermined by a report on their own website and show how ill-informed and confused they really are about a devastating pest disease threatening the Australian potato industry, claim AUSVEG.
Today, the DAFF Chief Plant Protection Officer stated that there has been “no detection of the psyllid” in consignments of tomatoes and capsicums, yet an Operational Science Program Bulletin from May 2012 which appears on the DAFF website reports the discovery of a live psyllid in a consignment of loose tomatoes from New Zealand during inspection at the Crewe Place AQIS facility in New South Wales.
“This sort of smoke screening is exactly the sort of response you’d expect from a Department that can’t get its facts straight,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager, William Churchill.
“When a government department goes on record blatantly contradicting itself like this, severe concerns must surely be raised about their reliability as a source of information,” said Mr Churchill.
The Tomato-potato Psyllid is a small flying insect which is a vector to transmit the Zebra Chip bacterium which lives in its gut. Currently in New Zealand the Psyllid has caused an estimated 200 million dollars in damage in an industry valued at 600 million dollars.
“DAFF statements that question the scientific basis of AUSVEG’s claims are the height of hypocrisy, when it is DAFF that have failed to even be aware of new research findings highlighting the dangers of this disease in their draft import conditions review,” said Mr Churchill.
“Clearly this is a department which not only struggles with accountability, it is one which also struggles with its own understanding of the very disease it claims to be protecting Australia from,” said Mr Churchill.
Additionally, claims that AUSVEG is just mounting an emotional argument are completely offensive, insensitive and inconsiderate of the potato farmers whose businesses are at risk by the cavalier attitude being taken by DAFF. AUSVEG is calling on the Department to apologise for those remarks.
DAFF have also claimed that “science is not on [AUSVEG’s] side”. One of the fundamental ideas underpinning DAFF’s understanding of Zebra Chip is that infected potato tubers cannot transmit the Zebra Chip disease without the Tomato-Potato Psyllid. In 2011 evidence was presented in the European Journal of Plant Pathology showing this not to be the case. More scientific evidence is available in AUSVEG’s submission which is available at: http://ausveg.com.au/news/zebrachip.htm
“Clearly, the Chief Plant Protection Officer should get across the science and the facts before making these sorts of statements, said Mr Churchill.
 Pitman AR, Drayton GM, Kraberger SJ, Genet RA, Scott IAW (2011) Tuber transmission of ‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum’ and its association with zebra chip on potato in New Zealand. European Journal of Plant Pathology 129: 389-398. Ω