Disease fears well founded

Hills growers must feel this week that their fears at the potential for NZ apple imports to spread new pests and diseases here are justified.
A Federal Senate committee has heard almost 25% of the fruit bound for Australia since the Kiwi nation won the right to send its exports here in August has been rejected because it was contaminated.
Australian quarantine authorities found single apple leaf curling midges in two shipments, as well as small pieces of leaf matter.
The midge is one of the top three biosecurity threats that the apple and pear industry fears will spread here from NZ.
The tiny insect can kill trees by affecting their leaves.
Leaf matter in shipments is also of major concern to the industry as it could host the orchard-devastating disease fire blight.
It is alarming that there has been such a high rate of contamination just two months after NZ started its apple exports to Australia.
While none of the three affected shipments made it here, industry groups are rightly concerned.
On one hand, the detection shows that quarantine inspections are working by detecting such small levels of contamination.
But it raises serious questions about the ability of the NZ protocols supported by Biosecurity Australia to prevent the spread of pests and diseases to Australia.
If either the midge or fire blight, or a third threat in the form of European canker, land in Australia, the effects on the local fruit growing industry would be devastating.
Fire blight alone has the potential to single-handedly wipe out pear production and seriously damage apple orchards.
An incursion would not only cost millions in lost production, but would also jeopardise Australian growers’ access to other markets for their fruit exports, including across Asia.
Apple and Pear Australia is calling for tougher controls to be placed on NZ growers to stop the pests and diseases spreading from their orchards to the packing houses and on into export shipments.
Such changes are needed before NZ starts increasing the volume of fruit it sends here, otherwise the chances of contamination slipping through the quarantine net will rise.
The industry’s best line of defence against these biosecurity threats is to ensure they do not land in our ports in the first place.
Once they do, the State Government’s education campaigns and quarantine zones may minimise their spread, but the damage to the industry will already have been done.