The Guardian August 15, 2001


Growers fight to protect pear & apple industry

Apple and pear growers around Australia last week passed unanimously a 
vote of no confidence in Biosecurity Australia's (BA) handling of the New 
Zealand request to export apples to Australia. BA is part of the federal 
Agriculture Department with a brief by the Federal Government to open 
Australia's agriculture to imports. Growers fear the real danger posed by 
imports of the fire blight bacteria, which could wipe out entire 
orchards.

A Senate Committee examining BA's proposals on the imports has already 
rejected BA's Import Risk Analysis pushing the imports as being 
"unsatisfactory", with too much reliance on "judgement and opinion". The 
committee requested BA it do a "fully qualitative fact and science risk 
assessment".

Jon Durham, Chief Executive of the Apple and Pear Growers' Association, 
said the vote followed a year of struggle with BA over the Import Risk 
Assessment process, and its handling of New Zealand's application to export 
apples to Australia.

Biosecurity Australia's handling of the Import risk Assessment has been 
fundamentally flawed from the outset and the industry has become 
increasingly frustrated that BA has failed to follow its own guidelines for 
assessing an import risk", said Mr Durham.

He said BA had continually changed the rules and had only paid lip service 
to the requirements that it consult growers throughout the process:, 
instead of a collaborative approach BA treats the industry like the enemy.

At the very start growers asked for a non-routine risk assessment to make 
sure the very best independent scientific evidence was used. BA completely 
ignored our arguments and insisted on going down the far less open and 
transparent routine path. We ended up with a draft Import Risk Assessment 
which was based on opinion rather than tried and tested scientific 
evidence.

"It was completely unsatisfactory and was exposed as such by a recent 
report on the Senate committee which investigated BA's actions", said Mr 
Durham.

Australia's apple and pear growers believe there is now no alternative but 
to go back to square one and start from the beginning of the process. They 
have no confidence that BA will carry out a thoroughly competent 
investigation.

"Fire Blight potentially would destroy Australia's pear industry and would 
severely damage apple crops", warned Mr Durham. "We must not take the risk 
of allowing the disease into this country through an inadequate Risk 
Assessment process  the future of the industry and the economic and 
social viability of entire rural communities is at stake."

Fire blight is endemic in New Zealand and 40 other countries, but is not 
present in Australia. Once it is introduced it can never be eradicated.

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