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Banana import decision brings risk

Biosecurity Australia has opened the door to banana imports from the Philippines, angering growers who believe it will bring disease into the country and devastate a valuable crop.

The agency has announced that a quarantine policy had been determined for the import of bananas from the Philippines.

The policy will be used to assess import applications for bananas from the Philippines.

“These measures are designed to limit quarantine risk to a level that is acceptably low in order to achieve Australia’s appropriate level of protection,” Biosecurity Australia said in a statement.

“A detailed operational work plan between Australia and the Philippines will now be developed.”

The operational plan will need approval by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) before any import permits will be considered.

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) said it was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision.

Banana growers believe the Philippines lacks a quarantine culture and the decision will leave the local industry open to a range of pests and diseases.

“Exotic pest or disease outbreaks in Australia will be an inevitable consequence of this decision if it leads to volumes of fruit being imported,” said Tully banana grower and ABGC imports committee chairman, Len Collins.

Collins said because all of the proposed risk management measures for key pests would need to be enforced on farms in the Philippines, he had zero confidence in the decision.

He said the decision was based on a 600-page report released on November 12 last year which cited 21 pests and diseases in the Philippines of quarantine concern to Australia.

The report then concluded the risks could be reduced to acceptable levels by proposed risk management measures.

“It is a disturbing thought that Australia’s quarantine security is effectively being handed to Philippines companies and Australian growers are highly concerned about new exotic pest and disease threats,” Collins said.

ABGC CEO, Tony Heidrich, said there were huge gaps in scientific knowledge of key pests and virtually no information about how AQIS would ensure that Philippines exporters met stringent quarantine conditions.

“AQIS had problems monitoring compliance with quarantine conditions for a range of pests and diseases in Australia – including equine influenza – let alone in a country where systemic graft and corruption are a way of life,” Heidrich said.

ABGC will next week put its case to a Senate inquiry which has been established to investigate the decision.

Hearings in Canberra are scheduled on March 11 and 12.

The Senate committee previously helped expose errors in earlier banana import risk reports, including gross underestimation of pest and disease risks as well as errors in the modelling used to calculate those risks.

Collins said it was some comfort to the Australian industry that senators would probe the decision.

— AAP

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