Chemical ban could slash Australian horticultural exports
Australian authorities have recommended the use of insecticide 'dimethoate' be banned due its negative effects on human health. While some products would be exempt from the proposed suspension, Australian Horticultural Exporters Association (AHEA) deputy chairman Joseph Saina tells www.freshfruitportal.com the move could cut exports by more than half.
A recent study by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has found the use of dimethoate on many crops "exceeds the health standards established in January this year".
As a response the authority has proposed a suspension of the organophosphate in the cultivation of 59 different products, including mandarins, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, pome fruit and stonefruit to name a few. The APVMA will be accepting submissions until Sep. 13 to determine 'appropriate action'.
"If regulatory action, such as suspension is to be taken, it will take effect by the end of September 2011, prior to the commencement of the main post-harvest dipping season. At that time, the APVMA will specify restrictions on use and provide related information to all stakeholders," the authority said.
Saina says the chemical is the main viable option for growers in fighting fruit flies, but other methods such as irraditation and the application of methyl bromide have been considered. If Australia cannot control the pest it will likely fall behind in meeting the phytosanitary requirements of export destinations.
"It’s going to leave Australian growers without an effective chemical to deal with fruit fly, which is an issue for major export destinations including New Zealand. If we lose 100% use of dimethoate we risk the possibility of losing access to that market, as well as Japan, China, possibly Thailand, the United States and possibly India," he says.
"Fruit fly can affect basically 90% of our plants, so that’s your citrus, mangoes, stonefruit, melons, grapes, and then your vegetables that are technically fruits like tomatoes, capsicums and zucchinis - it's a ballpark figure but Australia exports around $500 million (US$526.3 million) per year, which has fallen from more than AUD$700 million (US$734.6 million), not because of fruit flies but other issues like high costs and the exchange rate.
"If we lose dimethoate, it would affect around 70% of our export markets, which is more than $300 million (US$415.76 million)."
The problem is not just international, but interstate too
It is not only exports that could be affected by the ban, but interstate fresh produce transportation as well.
"Even interstate transport of fruit is going to be an issue, in terms of Victoria getting crop from Queensland. Victoria currently has the title of being fruit fly-free and this would put them at risk.
"If fruit flies enter a fruit-fly free zone we can use chemicals to quell the problem, but if we can’t do that I don’t know about the future.
"Victoria and South Australia are a high concern as in the winter time fruit growers from Queensland supply the Southern market, but how can we feed the southern states when interstate movement is an issue."
He said the issue adds to an already difficult situation for growers with low returns due to high exchange rates.
"Australia as a horticultural exporting nation is in a very sad state, and the high Aussie dollar could just be the nail in our coffin unfortunately."
Saina expects full regulations to come into place within the next six months. While the proposed ban affects several major export products, the APVMA recommends continued use for avocadoes, bananas, kiwifruit, mangoes and pineapples, among other crops.