Potatoes New Zealand just wants to set the record straight.
Australia has once again postponed its decision to allow
access to New Zealand fresh potatoes for processing, citing
Its growers say the recently released Australian Senate
Committee report, which recommends a further risk analysis,
vindicates their concerns.
They do not want to risk an incursion of a pest which they
say has ''ravaged'' the New Zealand potato industry.
Potatoes New Zealand chief executive Champak Mehta said there
was no cause for such comments and no substantive risk to
Australia's potato industry either.
He said the new analyses proposed by the Senate committee,
like the process before it, would not find any substantive
evidence to show importing fresh produce posed a significant
biosecurity risk to Australia.
While PotatoesNZ respected the senate committee's decision,
it would be ''proactively engaging'' with authorities to
inject balance into the argument and make sure the correct
information was provided to those preparing the next report,
Mr Mehta said.
''New Zealand is one of Australia's most important bilateral
''If New Zealand was to react in the same way to the recent
Queensland fruit fly discovery, there would be an immediate
halt of imports of Australian produce.
''But we don't do that, because we acknowledge that there are
very robust biosecurity measures in place to manage the risk
and because we believe that these biosecurity measures should
support the flow of trade, not constrain them [imports],'' Mr
There had been inaccuracies in the debate about the size and
impact of the threat to the Australian potato industry and
these were perpetuated in the Senate report and comments, he
The Senate committee decided not to allow access to New
Zealand fresh potatoes yet, because of concerns that
tomato-potato psyllid and other pests of fresh potatoes might
enter Australia, and recommended the Australian Government
should conduct a new import risk analysis.
At present, it is only considering fresh potatoes for
processing but PotatoesNZ would like to see the scope widened
to include fresh potatoes for consumption and seed, saying
this would provide more opportunities for its growers.
The committee wants the new analysis to: examine the
scientific research into all possible ways the Candidatus
Liberibacter solanacearum (or zebra chip) bacteria can be
spread, to take into account there is no reliable test to
identify the bacteria, and to ascertain what other biological
risks exist in New Zealand which might affect Australian
Zebra chip causes distinctive dark markings in cooked
While the darkening of the potato is not harmful, it does
render tubers unacceptable to the processing market.
Australia stopped importing fresh potatoes, along with
tomatoes and capsicums, from New Zealand in 2008 because of
concern about the psyllid and zebra chip disease.
Tomatoes and capsicums were allowed back into Australia in
2009 and there had been no evidence the psyllid or bacterium
had become established in Australia because of that, Mr Mehta
Australian grower representatives Ausveg and Potatoes South
Australia said, in statements, last month, that zebra chip
had ''ravaged'' the New Zealand industry, causing hundreds of
millions of dollars in losses and the Australian industry
faced ''catastrophic yield losses'' if access was granted to
New Zealand potatoes.
''There's a myth in Australia that zebra chip has `ravaged'
the New Zealand industry - and that's not the case,'' Mr
Potatoes NZ estimated the total cost to the New Zealand from
the psyllid incursion was about $60 million since 2008, ''far
smaller than the figures being used [by Australian
''This averages out annually to less than seven percent of
farm gate value and about two percent of the overall value
chain for potatoes,'' he said.
The senate committee's decision came after ''lengthy delays''
and it was disappointing there was still ''no finality to the
process'', Mr Mehta said.
The Australian Government has been asked to respond to the
senate report within three months.
- by Ruth Grundy