Friday, 7 September 2012

THE GREAT POTATO WAR


Australian farmers lobby
against New Zealand spuds
Newswire – 4 hours ago


Australian farmers are warning a devastating pest disease could wreak havoc on their crops if the federal government doesn't block the import of fresh potatoes from New Zealand.
The Australian Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon are also spitting chips over the spud imports, raising the same biosecurity fear arguments that have stopped New Zealand apples entering Australia despite World Trade Organization rulings in favor of New Zealand.
Lobbying by AusVeg, the Australian vegetable growers' organization has included an online video to illustrate the purported dangers of importing NZ potatoes.
The video shows child-like caricatures of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Agricutlure Minister Joe Ludwig and Trade Minister Craig Emerson playing a video game "destroying potatoes" between Australia and New Zealand. Distraught-looking farmer "parents" are also shown reading a newspaper with the headline AUSSIE CROPS DEVASTATED.
Senator Xenophon says New Zealand has reportedly lodged a request to provide Australia with fresh potatoes.
But a bug has already caused extensive damage to NZ potato crops and now threatens to "destroy" Australia's $A1.5 billion ($NZ1.9b) vegetable industry.
"Why on earth would the government gamble with our agricultural industry like this?" he said.
The bug, known as the tomato-potato psyllid, causes "zebra chip" in potatoes, meaning when cooked they develop black stripes that render them inedible.
Senator Xenophon said it affects not just potatoes but also tomato, capsicum, cucumber and eggplant crops, stressing that imports must not go ahead.
He also questioned the import-risk procedures applied by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), saying farmers had raised "serious concerns" with him about their standards.
Greens leader Christine Milne said industry had raised evidence that DAFF was ignoring new science on the transmission of the pest, adding to the "unacceptably high" risk it posed.
She called on Senator Ludwig to address the "crisis" and act on the conflict between primary industry groups and DAFF.
DAFF chief plant protection officer Dr Vanessa Findlay has previously said the disease had been monitored for five years.
She 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.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association says the biological threat posed by NZ potato imports could wipe out the livelihoods of the state's 300 growers, who were already suffering from reduced returns.
Peter’s Comment
So there is the crunch in the final words of the news item. Australian growers are merely afraid of a superior product.
Australian farmers have had plenty of practice at defeating the objects of the free trade agreement between New Zealand and Australia. Previously they used a ‘disease’ to keep the world’s best apples out of Australian shops until overruled by the World Trade Organization.
But now they have a senator lobbying on their behalf, but Senator Nick Xenophon should be warned that he runs runs the political risk of being dubbed Senator Spud Xenophobia which, in case he doesn’t have a dictionary handy, means a down-to-earth racist.