THE Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has weighed into the debate over the possible lifting of a ban on New Zealand potato imports.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” VFF horticulture group president Sue Finger said.
The federal government has released a draft proposal to lift the ban at the request of the New Zealand government.
Australian growers fear the imports pose a high risk of introducing the zebra-chip disease and other diseases that infect New Zealand potato crops.
“New Zealand is home to a raft of diseases that would devastate Australia’s crops,” Ms Finger said.
“The worst of these is zebra-chip disease, which makes potatoes unsalable and cost the Kiwis $60 million when it got through their quarantine barriers in 2008.
“The Kiwis’ potatoes have also got black wart and skin spot diseases, plus a raft of nematodes and viruses that we never want to see on Australian shores.”
Ms Finger said New Zealand was home to 17 exotic bacteria, fungi, nematodes and insects that attacked potatoes, which were not found in Australia. She questioned the need for New Zealand to export whole potatoes to Australia.
“The New Zealanders are already able to export processed potatoes to Australia, so why take the risk of exporting whole potatoes, dug straight out of New Zealand soil?” she said.
“Our high dollar and the carbon tax already give the New Zealanders a huge advantage.”
Potato growers say they don’t want the door opened on New Zealand whole potato imports just to give Kiwi growers an alternative market and Australian processors more bargaining power.
The federal Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has conducted an assessment of the risks and considers that a combination of mitigation measures might be required to manage the risks associated with imports.
The potato row mirrors last year’s federal government decision to allow New Zealand apples into Australia, despite their crops harbouring the fire blight disease, which is not present in Australia.
The proposal is open for submissions until September 3.