ON the back of proposals by Biosecurity Australia to lift a 24 year ban on New Zealand imports of potatoes, Federal Member for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone has warned that this move would be a huge and unnecessary risk.
“New Zealand potatoes bring with them the risk of Zebra Chip, a disease that not only affects potatoes, but tomatoes and capsicums as well. This news comes on the heels of Cedenco in Echuca announcing new machinery that will double the production of their processed tomatoes by 2017. This was a commitment to the future of the region, and a tremendous boost for staff at the plant and local growers. Is all this to be placed in jeopardy?” Sharman Stone said.
Zebra chip is spread through bacterium found in the gut of the Potato-Tomato Psyllid, a small flying insect similar in shape to a cicada. When feeding on the plant, the bug injects toxic saliva into it, adversely affecting starch and sugar levels. Unsightly black stripes appear on potatoes and tomatoes when cooked, similar to a zebra’s stripes. In tomatoes, psyllid feeding can cause plants to produce numerous small poor quality fruit or prevent fruit from forming.
“In spite of the obvious risks involved, Biosecurity Australia sees imported New Zealand potatoes being processed into chips. Australian growers can more than adequately supply domestic needs, so this is madness,” Dr Stone said.
“Didn’t we learn anything from the lifting of the 90 year ban on New Zealand apples? These brought with them the risk of fire blight for local apple and pear growers. The very first consignment from New Zealand was rejected because of the discovery of insect and leaf contamination.
“Labor is currently talking about their National Food Plan Green Paper. They constantly are happy to stand by and watch as our farmers are put under enormous pressure, whether it is the Murray Darling Basin Plan wanting to take water off our irrigators, or whether it is letting in imports with potential diseases and pests.
“It’s time to stop the rot and protect our agricultural interests,” Sharman Stone concluded.