AUSTRALIAN banana growers have taken their protectionist lobby to the skies and censured their national carrier, Qantas Airways, for serving passengers with bananas grown in the Philippines on trans-Tasman flights.
The Australian Banana Growers Council issued a statement after an Australian woman said she was handed a Philippine-grown banana on a flight between Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“When you’re talking trans-Tasman, whether the logistics couldn’t be worked out such that you could be supplied with fresh Australian bananas at both points of departure, I think Qantas should be probed a little bit on that point alone,” the council’s president, Tony Heidrich, was quoted as saying.
“I think certainly any Australian would prefer to see our national carrier supporting Australian industries,” he added.
Heidrich said local growers had fought hard to keep overseas products out of Australia.
“Australian airports are pretty strict in regards to declarations of fruit and vegetables and that sort of thing,” he said.
“But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that someone quite inadvertently could stick a Filipino banana in their handbag and perhaps not eat it and discard it in rubbish here, and before you know it we may have a full blown disease problem,” he added.
The council made the complaint after the federal agency Biosecurity Australia recently allowed the entry of Philippine-grown Cavendish bananas, opening up a market that Filipino growers have sought to enter since 1995.
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.
Australian media reported that the decision sparked an angry backlash among banana growers in Queensland and was made a campaign issue in the state’s recent elections.
The Liberal-National Party tried to pin the blame on the federal Labor government, but the Biosecurity Australia decision was implemented by the previous government. The Labor party won the election last week.
The Biosecurity Australia decision was based on a 600-page report released last Nov. 12, which idenfitied 21 pests and diseases in the Philippines that should concern Australia, but the report concluded the risks could be reduced to acceptable levels by 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.
But Heidrich insisted that the Australian quarantine service had problems monitoring compliance with quarantine conditions for a range of pests and diseases, including equine influenza.
The council’s imports committee chairman, Len Collins, also criticized the Philippines and said that country did not have a quarantine culture, and that it was disturbing that Australia’s quarantine security was effectively being handed over to Philippine companies.–Daily Tribune