FRESH concerns are being raised about the future of the Australian tomato industry with proposed import conditions providing an opportunity for an exotic insect pest to enter our nation, according to industry body AUSVEG.
The group claims the tomato-potato psyllid - a small, flying insect resembling a cicada which has wreaked havoc in New Zealand and North America, could potentially be headed to Australian shores if proposed import conditions are approved.
AUSVEG public affairs manager William Churchill said Australia was lucky to be free of the pest and asked the government woud give it the chance to cross our borders and potentially devastate the tomato industry.
The import conditions for fresh potatoes from New Zealand are under review by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity and, if approved, New Zealand potatoes will be allowed to enter Australia for processing.
"This is concerning because the New Zealand tomato and potato industries have been ravaged by the tomato-potato psyllid and there is a danger the pest will make its way to Australia with consignments of fresh potatoes from New Zealand," said Mr Churchill.
"The DAFF draft import conditions report is based on outdated information and contains a number of significant oversights which will potentially place the Australian tomato industry at risk from this pest.
The Australian tomato industry is one of the largest sectors of Australian horticulture and in 2010-11 was worth $418 million, Mr Churchill said.
"This insect loves to feast on the stems of Solanaceous crops, crippling the health of plants and drastically affecting their yield," he said.
Tomato, potato and capsicum are all Solanaceous plants affected by the tomato-potato psyllid.
"The concerns of the Australian tomato industry echo those being made by Australian potato growers in regards to this extremely damaging pest," Mr Churchill said.
He said the insect could carry a bacterium that causes discolouration in potatoes, rendering them unsaleable.
"The Australian tomato industry could potentially be devastated if this pest becomes established in our nation," he said.
"This would affect not only tomato growers but the large number of local food processors who use Australian tomatoes in their products, potentially putting hundreds of jobs right across the supply chain at risk."