Australia makes final NZ apple decision

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Australia makes final NZ apple decision

Despite protests and heavy criticism from many scientists and politicians, Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has officially approved the import of New Zealand apples. Local growers will now need to accept the potential risk of fireblight entering the country, while the decision marks a turning point for a struggling New Zealand apple export industry.

DAFF Biosecurity Plant division executive manager Colin Grant, said the decision followed a stakeholder comment period to give feedback about quarantine conditions.

"Changes were made in the final report to address stakeholder comments and to include all relevant applicable information," he said.

"The import conditions require that New Zealand growers be registered to export to Australia and apply in-orchard controls for fire blight, European canker and apple leaf curling midge, including ongoing targeted monitoring, spraying and pruning.

"Only commercially mature fruit will be permitted to be imported to Australia and all export fruit will be required to be washed by high-pressure water spraying and brushed in the packing house to remove surface contamination of pests and trash such as leaf litter."

In a release, DAFF said the entire system would would be audited by Australian authorities before the fruit leaves New Zealand, with another inspection by quarantine officers once consignments land in Australia.

Submissions and protests

In letters sent to Biosecurity Australia, local producers had made last ditch efforts to influence the decision making process before the August deadline for new protocols.

"My family has been growing apples in this country since 1858 and we are still on the same patch of soil my great great grandfather planted on," said Gavin Lang from Langdale Orchards in Victoria.

"But if New Zealand apples are allowed into Australia with the current import inspection criteria it will be the end of us."

Recently-arrived Pakistani scientist Jabbar Ali Khan said communities were at risk.

"Some years from now, we will have the opportunity to look at the result of the decision that is about to be made," he said.

"As an employee working in the apple industry I urge you to keep the level of biosecurity at the highest to protect our fruit industry."

Some growers presented an economic argument of survival, while others took their anger further.

"We are a small family business growing both apples and pears, but we provide employment for many casual people over the year. Our business would not survive an outbreak - the impact on rural employment would be catastrophic,” said Graeme and Betty Finger.

"This is like giving the Devil the keys to the Blood Bank, I urge you not to support this," said Maurice and Rien Silverstein.

"(It is our) very livelihood that is being threatened by the import protocols for fruit from New Zealand."

Such defiance established the backdrop to protests in the town of Shepparton recently, where people gathered to listen to apple producers, community members and union leaders, lighting a symbolic bonfire of dead apple trees.

With the onset of increased imports, Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL) has been trying to boost productivity in the sector for years, with the national average of output per hectare lagging well behind the benchmarks of other apple-growing countries.

APAL has sent a message that growers can compete with imports if they improve productivity, with 33% of Victorian growers already meeting the output benchmarks of the world's leading apple industries.

Elation across the Tasman Sea

Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Peter Beaven welcomed the decision, which brings a successful end to a '90-year battle'.

"We were always confident that the science would prevail. Mature symptomless apples do not pose a risk to the Australian industry and that has at last been accepted by the Australian Government and officials," he said.

He said four packhouses have passed the Australian audits and are qualified to pack fruit for Australia, with the first apples expected to be available in Australia 'very soon'.

"For several years now, we have offered to work collaboratively with Australian growers to promote apple consumption in Australia.

"Their per capita consumption is half that of New Zealand and NZ can offer a different variety mix as well."

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