AN external expert has been engaged by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to assess over 25 submissions in response to the department’s review of import conditions for fresh potatoes from New Zealand contaminated with the devastating zebra chip disease.
In what is being perceived by industry as a complete backflip by the department, whose previous position was that it had prepared its import risk analysis after considering all available science, DAFF has now flip-flopped on the issue and gone seeking help.
“This move by DAFF is an admission by the department itself that it has a lack of confidence in its own work,” said Ausveg public affairs manager William Churchill.
“The department has been forced to engage a scientific expert, which begs the question: how can any of DAFF’s work up to this point have any legitimacy if it now has had to resort to employing external consultants who better understand the issue?”
Ausveg is the national peak industry body representing Australia’s 9000 vegetable and potato growers.
“We can only hope that this external consultant will come to the same science-based conclusion as Ausveg that importing fresh potatoes from New Zealand poses an unacceptable pest and disease risk to the Australian industry.
“DAFF’s chief plant protection officer has previously accused Ausveg of running an ’emotional campaign’ against New Zealand imports without science on their side, yet as these accusations have backfired, it is now DAFF that has been found lacking in scientific expertise.”
A Senate inquiry into this issue is currently ongoing and submissions to the committee closed yesterday.
“The decision to hire an external expert validates the questions that Ausveg has raised about the scientific accuracy of DAFF’s work.”
Potatoes from New Zealand can carry the dangerous zebra chip disease and the tomato-potato psyllid, which together have caused losses of over $200 million to the New Zealand potato industry. Australia is currently free of the disease.
The Ausveg submission to the Senate inquiry highlights the significant oversights made in DAFF’s draft review to import fresh potatoes from New Zealand.
“If this disease enters Australia, it will devastate the Australian potato industry, and the blame will lie with DAFF Biosecurity,” Mr Churchill said.
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