The Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie and the Member for Western Victoria David O’Brien MLC have met with potato farmers and together slammed the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity Division’s review to allow fresh New Zealand potato imports into Australia.
Key industry leaders have said there is a strong probability the imports would be infected with the destructive Zebra Chip disease and carry Potato Psyllid insects, both of which could have a catastrophic impact on the local potato industry.
Senator McKenzie said the Labor Government needed to act on growers’ concerns.
“The disease has wreaked havoc in America, Mexico and Canada and can render crops worthless.
“The insects can cause yield losses of more than 50 per cent, so Australia cannot afford to put its $10 billion horticulture industry at risk.”
Senator McKenzie said she feared DAFF was relying on outdated information to determine if Australia should allow the imports into the country for processing.
“DAFF still refers to a 2009 Final Pest Risk Analysis as a guide to Zebra Chip, so how can we be sure the department has the appropriate knowledge to control disease risk if it does allow the imports into Australia?
“The most up-to-date science must be considered in order to understand and manage the issue, as there is still much to learn about this bacterium that was first identified in 2008.”
Member for Western Victoria David O’Brien said local potato farmers in the Ballarat area were already suffering from the lower prices being offered and a cut in their production contracts.
“This year’s prices are $35 a tonne lower than last year’s – the last thing these farmers need is a questionable decision to import suspect New Zealand potatoes.”
Senator McKenzie said the Minister for Agriculture must listen to growers.
“Australian potato farmers are on the front line of disease management and they are acutely aware of the risks associated with the potato imports.
“If the federal government wants Australia to feed the world with its pest and disease-free produce, then it must ensure our biosecurity is protected.”