Devastating pest risk to $400 million Australian tomato industry

Fresh concerns are being raised about the future of the Australian tomato industry with proposed import conditions providing an opportunity for an exotic insect pest to enter our nation. The Tomato-potato psyllid a small, flying insect resembling a cicada which has wreaked havoc in New Zealand and North America, could potentially be headed to Australian shores if proposed import conditions are approved.

“Australia is lucky enough to be free of this devastating pest, so why would our government give it the chance to cross our borders and potentially devastate our tomato industry?” said AUSVEG Public Affairs and Communications Manager, William Churchill.

AUSVEG is the National Peak Industry Body representing Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers.

The import conditions for fresh potatoes from New Zealand are currently under review by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity and if approved, New Zealand potatoes will be allowed to enter Australia for processing.

“This is concerning because the New Zealand tomato and potato industries have been ravaged by the Tomato-potato psyllid and there is a danger that the pest will make its way to Australia with consignments of fresh potatoes from New Zealand,” said Mr Churchill.

“The DAFF Draft import conditions report is based on outdated information and contains a number of significant oversights which will potentially place the Australian tomato industry at risk from this pest.”

“DAFF Biosecurity seem to have a problem with accountability, which is a huge problem as they are charged with protecting our nation from exotic pests and diseases,” said Mr Churchill.

The Australian tomato industry is one of the largest sectors of Australian horticulture and in 2010-11 was worth $418 million.

“This insect loves to feast on the stems of Solanaceous crops, crippling the health of plants and drastically affecting their yield,” said Mr Churchill.

Tomato, potato and capsicum are all Solanaceous plants affected by the Tomato-potato psyllid.

“The concerns of the Australian tomato industry echo those being made by Australian potato growers in regards to this extremely damaging pest,” said Mr Churchill.

The insect can also carry a bacterium which causes discolouration in potatoes, rendering them unsaleable.

“The Australian tomato industry could potentially be devastated if this pest becomes established in our nation.”

“This would affect not only tomato growers but the large number of local food processors who use Australian tomatoes in their products, potentially putting hundreds of jobs right across the supply chain at risk,” said Mr Churchill.


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