It’s now safe to import Philippine bananas — Australia

Published by rudy Date posted on March 4, 2009

THE Australian government has decided that it is safe to import Cavendish bananas from the Philippines, opening up a market that Filipino growers have sought to enter since 1995.

The decision by Biosecurity Australia, a federal agency, sparked an angry backlash among Australian growers and has become a campaign issue in the Queensland election, Farm Weekly reported.

In a statement on its Web site, the agency said banana imports from the Philippines may be permitted “subject to the application of phytosanitary measures,” and that was after it conducted an import risks analysis in response to a request from Manila.

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council said it was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision and would take its concerns to a Senate committee hearing in Canberra next week.

The council said it was convinced significant threats from pests and diseases associated with Philippine bananas could not be effectively managed, and that exotic pest or disease outbreaks in Australia would be an inevitable consequence of this decision if it led to volumes of fruit being imported.

“The Philippines does not have a quarantine culture,” the council’s imports committee chairman Len Collins said.

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

The decision is based on a 600-page biosecurity report released on Nov. 12 last year, which cited 21 pests and diseases in the Philippines of quarantine concern to Australia, but which concluded the risks could be reduced to “acceptable levels” by proposed risk-management measures.

Biosecurity Australia said Australia and the Philippines would develop a detailed operational plan that will need to be approved by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service before any import permits for bananas from the Philippines into Australia will be considered.

Farm Weekly quoted council chief executive Tony Heidrich as saying there were huge gaps in scientific knowledge of key pests, and virtually no information about how the Australian quarantine service would ensure Philippine exporters met the required stringent quarantine conditions.

“It is a known fact that 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 was quoted as saying.

The decision has become a campaign issue in the Queensland election, with Liberal-National Party agriculture spokesman, Ray Hopper, trying to pin the blame on the federal Labor government, even though the process for reaching the Biosecurity Australia decision was implemented by the previous coalition government.

“At a time when Far North Queensland and its banana-growing districts are struggling, this is just about the last thing our growers need to hear,” Hopper said.

“The decision of the Rudd government to ignore the sound scientific arguments of Queensland growers and their industry representatives is a kick in the guts.”

Biosecurity Australia provides science-based quarantine assessments and policy advice.- Manila Standard Today

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