AUSVEG CEO Richard Mulcahy has welcomed the proposal for a briefing of the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Committee on Zebra Chip disease, following a recent request by New Zealand to import fresh potatoes for processing into Australia.
“If New Zealand potatoes come into Australia we have good reason to fear Australian potatoes would be contaminated with the devastating „Zebra Chip‟ disease, which is widespread in New Zealand, and could potentially devastate the Australian industry if anoutbreak occurs,” Mr Mulcahy said.
Tasmanian Greens Senator Christine Milne–who has expressed public support for the industry on the issue–alerted the industry to the briefing proposal, which includes many of AUSVEG‟s concerns about the serious risks presented by the market access request.
“We commend the Australian Greens, in particular their Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, for their pro-active stance on this issue and for taking steps to ensure Australian potato growers have a voice at the highest political level,” Mr Mulcahy said. “This disease could do serious damage to the Australian potato industry. It literally threatens the livelihood of thousands of Australian rural families.
According to the advice we have received from experts, the risk could not be more serious on this issue, so we are pleased tosee the Greens are eager to take advice from industry on this and make sure the risks are well-understood in Canberra as well,” he said. Zebra Chip disease complex has caused widespread destruction in New Zealand and theUSA, costing the international potato industry millions of dollars. The psyllid infects potatoes with Liberibacter, the bacterium which causes Zebra Chip in potatoes.
Reports have shown that the pest caused losses of $40-$60 million for NZ producers in 2008/09, with the psyllid alone–which kills the potato plant–said to be considerably destructive and the disease rendering produce that does manage to grow unsellable.
“We‟ve sent researchers to New Zealand to investigate the situation and to assist with the development of contingency plans here. If Biosecurity Australia allow New Zealand access to export potentially diseased potatoes into Australia, they run the risk of devastating the local industry. This will drive the cost of potatoes up for consumers and result in taxpayers money being spent to secure Australia‟s biosecurity,” said Mr Mulcahy.
AUSVEG is the national peak industry body representing the interests of potato growers.
“In 2008/09 Australian growers produced 1,178,534 tonnes of potatoes. If this disease was to enter Australia we are looking at potentially the majority of the domestic potato industrybeing wiped out,” said Mr Mulcahy.