THE Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has hit back at claims it was basing quarantine decisions on outdated information and of avoiding accountability.
On Friday, vegetable industry body AUSVEG accused the department of putting Australia's tomato and potato industries at risk through exposure to bacterium that cause zebra chip and psyllid yellows from products imported from New Zealand (http://www.ruralweekly.com.au/story/2012/08/17/grower-group-raises-tomato-fears/).
But in a media release from the department, it said nothing could be further from the truth.
"The disease zebra chip on which AUSVEG bases its claims has long been of interest to DAFF," the release said.
"When the bacterium causing zebra chip in potatoes and 'psyllid yellows' in tomatoes was detected in New Zealand in June 2008 DAFF assessed the risk and immediately suspended the import conditions for host fruits, including tomatoes. This was announced publically and was in addition to the voluntary suspension of exports that New Zealand self-imposed.
"DAFF then proceeded to conduct a comprehensive risk analysis on the bacterium and the tomato-potato psyllid.
"The analysis was published initially as a draft report in May 2009 and stakeholders were invited to comment. AUSVEG were not among the seven stakeholders that provided comment on the draft report. After assessing the submissions and taking all scientifically valid comments into account, DAFF released a final report in September 2009.
"DAFF also attended a number of conferences and workshops to present the findings, including at the AUSVEG Zebra Chip Industry Summit. No substantive concerns were raised and trade in capsicums and tomatoes from New Zealand commenced under the conditions that had been developed through this process. Since 2009 there have been approximately 8000 tonnes of fresh tomatoes and 5000 tonnes of fresh capsicums imported from New Zealand. There have been no detections of the psyllid or the bacterium in the Australian environment.
"The most recent draft report, proposing conditions under which potatoes may be imported from New Zealand for processing only has been released for stakeholder comment. The report invites comment and any provision of scientific information that the industry believe is relevant to the biosecurity risks. The report recommends that potatoes only be permitted if they have been washed and brushed to remove soil, have been subjected to quarantine inspection by New Zealand and Australian officers, and are processed under quarantine control. All waste must be disposed of under quarantine security. Fresh, whole potatoes from New Zealand will not be available for retail sale.
"DAFF takes information presented by stakeholders seriously and provides formal opportunity for interested parties to provide comment during the development of import conditions. However, as biosecurity risks can change over time, DAFF is constantly scanning for new information relevant to biosecurity risks and also invites stakeholders to contact the department at any time with any information that they become aware of. The import conditions for hosts of tomato-potato psyllid and the bacterium are based on the best available science. No information has been uncovered that suggests the current biosecurity measures, or those proposed in the draft report, do not protect Australia."