Business

Pineapple farmers next in biosecurity firing line

CONCERNED: John Savelio picks ginger in the Mary Valley. Ginger farmers say the burgeoning local industry is at risk following the decision to allow ginger to be imported from Fiji.
CONCERNED: John Savelio picks ginger in the Mary Valley. Ginger farmers say the burgeoning local industry is at risk following the decision to allow ginger to be imported from Fiji. Renee Pilcher

NEWS that Fijian ginger is available for sale in Sydney despite major questions about its pest and disease status has sent shivers up the spines of Australia's remaining pineapple growers.

Peak body for the pineapple industry, Growcom, yesterday joined Gympie ginger growers and the Australian Ginger Industry Association in criticising the decision to allow the imports in spite of unanswered biosecurity questions.

Pineapple growers, once prolific in the Mary Valley, fear their industry could be the next in line to be exposed to pests and disease by a "complacent federal biosecurity regime".

Growcom chief advocate Rachel Mackenzie said pineapple growers were outraged that the sale of imported ginger had been authorised by the Federal Government since it raised significant questions not only around Australia's biosecurity, but government processes as a whole.

"The government has yet to formally respond to the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry report released in March which strongly criticised government biosecurity procedures regarding pineapple, potato and ginger imports. Meanwhile, imported product, Fijian ginger, is already here," Ms Mackenzie said.

"It makes a mockery of our participation in the Senate Inquiry process and calls into question the usefulness of these inquiries.

"It seems they are nothing more than political navel-gazing exercises with no capacity to influence policy.

"Growcom, along with the Australian Ginger Industry Association, invested significant time and resources into providing submissions to this inquiry and in appearing before the senators.

"To not even be given the courtesy of a formal response from government is insulting.

"The recommendations of the Senate Inquiry were

unequivocal in calling for a review of the import risk analyses for all three commodities.

"The report vindicated the position of the respective

industries regarding their biosecurity concerns.

"These concerns are based on scientific analyses of the very real threats to domestic production from identified pests, including bacterial fruit collapse and heart rot in pineapples and Fijian burrowing nematode in ginger.

"And yet there has been no willingness from the department to undertake these reviews.

"In fact they have now gone the whole hog and approved the importation of Fijian ginger.

"We have approached Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and while he seemed sympathetic and announced an 'examination' into the import risk analysis process after the election of the Abbott Government, he has since claimed his hands are tied.

"This begs the question, to whom are the department bureaucrats accountable?

"The pineapple industry is terrified that a poor process conducted without any transparency or accountability has the potential to bring a disease into the country that can account for up to 40% crop losses.

"In the words of the Senate Inquiry report, 'it defies common sense'."

Topics:  biosecurity business

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