Farmers warn against potato imports
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HOBART, Sept 6 AAP
September 06 2012, 5:24PM
Furious Tasmanian farmers have warned that the state's potato industry faces ruin if New Zealand imports are allowed.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) says the industry on the island state could be wiped out by the tomato-potato psyllid that causes "zebra chip" and occurs in NZ crops.
"At stake is a Tasmanian industry worth $110 million to 300 growers," TFGA chief executive Jan Davis said.
"If our potatoes, the best in the world, are contaminated by the NZ diseases, not only will the local industry collapse, the Tasmanian economy will be enormously impacted."
The move has caused outrage in Tasmania, where Greens leader Christine Milne joined calls to federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig to not allow the imports.
The front page of Hobart newspaper The Mercury blared "Save Our Spuds", while Ms Davis blamed supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.
"This is all down to the supermarket prices war, which they assured us would not affect Australian growers," she said.
"That is clearly untrue. Prices are down, now they want to import potatoes instead of using ours.
"They may well carry diseases that will wipe us out."
Senator Milne called for a review of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's (DAFF) decision-making process on imports.
She said the ginger, pineapple, apple and pear, banana, honey and vegetable industries had all recently raised concerns about DAFF's risk analyses.
"What is absolutely clear now is that Australia's primary industries simply do not have any faith in DAFF's ability to carry out its core biosecurity functions," she said in a statement.
AUSVEG, the nation's peak industry body representing Australia's 9000 vegetable growers, said the pest had caused $200 million worth of damage to NZ crops and DAFF had downplayed its threat.
South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon joined the chorus, calling the decision "absurd".
Zebra chip causes potatoes to develop a black stripe when they are cooked, making them inedible.
DAFF has been contacted for comment but chief plant protection officer Dr Vanessa Findlay has previously said the disease had been monitored for five years.
Dr Findlay said 13,000 tonnes of tomatoes and capsicums had been imported from NZ since 2010 with no sign of the disease and the rules for potatoes would be more strict.
By David Beniuk