Zebra Chip disease symptoms (Source: TAMU)

    Claims New Zealand potatoes do not pose a “substantive risk” to the Australian industry have been slammed as irresponsible and reckless by AUSVEG.

    The Peak Industry Body representing 9,000 Australian vegetable and potato growers said the comments by Potatoes New Zealand CEO, Champak Mehta, also undermined the work of the Senate committee charged with investigating the important issue of New Zealand potato imports and the risk of Zebra Chip disease.

    Mr Mehta’s comments come just days after the Senate committee investigating importing potatoes from New Zealand for processing recommended the Department of Agriculture go back to the drawing board and conduct the Import Risk Analysis again after it noted several flaws in its proposal.

    AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager William Churchill labelled Mr Mehta’s comments reckless and disrespectful.

    “AUSVEG has long raised concerns about the risk of Zebra chip disease entering Australia, and it was heartening that the Senate committee shared a number of these,” he said.

    “The fact Mr Mehta is now seeking to downplay the risk, flies in the face of the senate committee’s finding, while also insulting our local industry. I’m stunned that he could claim to be satisfied by the 2009 Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) when it was filled with such blatant oversights. His claim that the original PRA showed that there was “no risk” with importing potatoes for processing is a good indication he has not read any of the Australian industry’s submissions and isn’t across the issue”.

    In its final report, the Senate committee also echoed the Australian industry’s long-held concerns about the ability of the Department of Agriculture to keep Zebra Chip disease and its vector the Tomato-potato Psyllid out of Australia.

    The Zebra Chip disease complex has been tearing through the New Zealand potato industry since 2008, however, Australia is currently free of the disease that has caused, according to Mr Mehta’s predecessor, $200 million in damages to the NZ industry.

    “By Mr Mehta’s own admission, Zebra Chip has wiped tens-of-millions of dollars from the New Zealand potato industry. If a similar situation were to develop here, the consequences for our industry would be disastrous.”

    “There seems to be a great deal of confusion in New Zealand about the amount of damage the Psyllid has caused to the NZ industry and that confusion seems to extend to their understanding of the risks involved with importing potatoes”.