Government fails to intervene on imported potatoes from NZ

The Australian potato industry is dismayed that the Federal Government has so far failed to block a market access request by New Zealand to send fresh potatoes to Australia, a move that puts almost 1.5 billion dollars of agricultural production at risk from the Tomato-potato Psyllid, a destructive insect wreaking havoc in New Zealand.

A video released today by AUSVEG depicts the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, as children playing Space Invaders against New Zealand potatoes before moving the camera back to show two distraught parents devastated over what looks like the end of their industry and their family potato business.

“Our government is treating an industry worth 10 billion dollars like a game. We want our representatives in Canberra, consumers and farmers alike to hear this important message,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager, William Churchill.

Last year apples from New Zealand were permitted to be imported into Australia despite scientific objection from apple and pear growers and industry on biosecurity grounds.

“What we’re seeing is Trade and Agriculture Departments that are playing games with the lives of tens of thousands of people, their families and their businesses,” said Mr Churchill.

The potato, tomato, vegetable, ginger, pineapple, apple and pear industries have all lodged objections to the lack of scientific rigour applied to imports of fresh produce from other countries, with many citing the selective nature of the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity’s Import Risk Analyses (IRAs).

“The potato industry has lodged its objections with DAFF and cited new research that demonstrates the department’s fundamental understanding of the Tomato-potato Psyllid is flawed and the documents they rely on so heavily are now obsolete. The Federal Government must intervene on this issue both to block imported potatoes from New Zealand and to answer the questions surrounding the process DAFF employs when conducting IRAs,” said Mr Churchill.

The Tomato-potato Psyllid can feed off Solanaceous crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums, cucumber and eggplant, which represent almost 1.5 billion dollars of agricultural production. Potatoes and tomatoes are two of the top three most popular vegetables in the country.

“The processing sector in New Zealand has stated recently that potato production in the North Island is on a knife’s edge as a result of this pest. Why are we willing to roll the dice and play games with our primary industries and food manufacturing sector? The same government that expects Australia to feed Asia this century is the same government that is allowing the pest free status of this country to be destroyed,” said Mr Churchill.

The deadline for scientific submissions to DAFF closed on Monday September 3.

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


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