Australian govt inquiry to revisit NZ potato imports
Australia's horticultural industry has praised a Senate inquiry for asking the government to re-examine the risk of importing potatoes from New Zealand, given the presence of zebra chip disease.
Earlier this week Senators Colbeck, Xenophon, Nash, Madigan and McKenzie moved that the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee look at the validity of the scientific evidence underpinning the import risk analysis for New Zealand potatoes.
Australian vegetable and potato trade body Ausveg's public affairs Manager, William Churchill said the disease renders potatoes worthless.
He said zebra chip, coupled with the tomato-potato Psyllid, has cost the New Zealand potato industry about AUD$200 million (US$211 million).
"This represents a significant step in the right direction towards stopping the proposed importation of fresh potatoes from New Zealand, which are infected with the devastating Zebra Chip disease."
AUSVEG has been vocal in its criticism of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). Australia is currently free of the Zebra Chip disease and the psyllid.
"The DAFF import risk analysis (IRA) is based on outdated scientific evidence, yet DAFF biosecurity refuse to update it, despite the wealth of recent findings demonstrating how the IRA is based on outdated information," said Churchill.
"This Senate inquiry into the IRA highlights the lack of confidence that Australian growers have in the department charged with protecting Australia from exotic pests and diseases and the process they undertake to evaluate these risks."
AUSVEG said claims by a DAFF spokesmen last week that New Zealand potato consignments were free from the Tomato-potato Psyllid contradicted infromation on the department website stating a live psyllid had been discovered earlier this year.
"This inquiry validates the calls of the Australian potato growing industry; that DAFF simply do not have a proper grasp of the science related to a pest which has the potential to destroy the Australian potato industry."
Zebra Chip disease is caused by a bacteria which is carried by a psyllid which looks like a tiny cicada and causes dark streaks, flecks or spots on the potato tubers causing the potatoes to go dark brown when cooked.