Devastating potato disease threatens Australian growers

The Australian Potato industry is facing potential yield losses of up to 50%  if the Zebra Chip disease complex is introduced into Australia resulting from approval of market access for New Zealand potatoes by the Federal Government. The market access request will allow the importation of fresh potatoes from New Zealand for the purpose of processing, which includes French fry and potato chip production.

“The quality and scientific validity of the Federal Government’s advice on potato importation contains a number of claims which are not scientifically based and this places the Australian potato industry – worth $614 million in 2009/10 – at immense risk from this devastating disease,” said AUSVEG Chief Executive Officer Mr Richard Mulcahy.

“Placing the livelihood of these Australian potato growers and their families in danger based on import conditions constructed from poorly researched, non-scientific information is simply far too great a risk to take,” said Mr Mulcahy.

The Zebra Chip disease complex dramatically affects the health of potato plants and in the year of 2008/09, caused losses of over $60 million to New Zealand’s potato industry.

“AUSVEG is calling for these proposed measures to be scrapped and for the importation of potentially diseased potatoes to remain suspended, especially as the Zebra Chip disease complex is not fully understood by the scientific community, let alone those at DAFF Biosecurity who have prepared the draft report.”

“The draft import conditions do not even contain guidance on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point procedures, which are standard industry practice in assessing and monitoring risk. This highlights the lack of detail and scientific consideration within this draft report,” said Mr Mulcahy.

Potatoes represent one of Australian horticulture’s largest crops, with over 2,000 growing operations supplying both fresh and processing potatoes to Australian markets.

“How can DAFF Biosecurity be trusted with imports of contaminated potatoes if it cannot even write importation advice based on science and not opinion?” said Mr Mulcahy.

“The draft import conditions report is largely based on a Pest Risk Analysis written in 2009. This Pest Risk Analysis is severely out of date considering the significant advances made in the last three years of the understanding of this disease and its devastating potential.”

“The report also fails to consider other potential pathways for the disease into Australia, such as in nursery stock. This is a serious oversight if DAFF Biosecurity is genuinely concerned about protecting our nation from exotic pests and diseases,” said Mr Mulcahy.

Other staple foods, including tomatoes and capsicums are also affected by the disease complex, which is spread by an insect called the Tomato-Potato Psyllid and also through live plant material, including fresh potatoes.

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

 


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