DAFF stands by outdated three-year-old review of devastating potato disease, but alarm bells ring loudly for Aussie potato industry
AUSVEG, the national peak industry body representing Australian vegetable and potato growers today expressed its shock and concern following the release of a statement by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) defending its three-year-old scientific analysis about the devastating Zebra Chip disease and the Tomato-potato psyllid. New Zealand has requested market access to import fresh potatoes into Australia for processing but there is a risk that the potatoes may contain the disease.
In a media release issued last Friday, DAFF claims to have completed a ‘comprehensive’ risk analysis of the bacteria causing Zebra Chip disease and the psyllid responsible for spreading it, whilst also claiming that they are ‘constantly scanning for new information relevant to biosecurity risks’.
“I’m stunned at the language DAFF is comfortable with using in its releases – claiming that in 2009 it was even possible to do a ‘comprehensive’ risk analysis is frankly misleading,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager William Churchill.
“So much has changed in three years from a scientific perspective. DAFF alleges that in 2009 they were able to comprehensively consider hosts, vectors, suitability of environment and the psyllid’s reproductive strategy. It’s now 2012 and most of that information is still unknown – anything ‘comprehensive’ is just guesswork,” said Mr Churchill.
“Worse still are the claims that DAFF is ‘constantly scanning for new information’. The only information post 2009 that DAFF has updated is to change the scientific name of the Zebra Chip bacteria. I don’t know how DAFF is scanning for new information but it feels like they are getting their information by Telex when the rest of the country is using email,” said Mr Churchill.
Since 2009, new research has emerged discrediting DAFF’s belief that potato tubers infected with the Zebra Chip disease are not capable of sprouting and growing. In addition, DAFF believes that there is only one way to transmit the disease, which has also been proven incorrect since 2009.
The DAFF release also states that ‘no information has been uncovered that suggests that the current biosecurity measures, or those proposed in the draft report, do not protect Australia’.
“These have been some major findings that shed light on our understanding of the Zebra Chip complex and it’s incredible that the Department has not kept itself abreast of these changes and instead, the industry has had to do the work for them. As industry, we’re not just suggesting – we’re stating – that the biosecurity measures being proposed are insufficient, are based on flawed assumptions and present too great a risk,” said Mr Churchill.
“DAFF makes the argument that research needs to be scientifically based and justifiable, but DAFF’s own publications fail to hold to its own standards. There is little to no referencing in their documents and many claims in these reports are completely indistinguishable from opinion. Additionally, DAFF use an ‘absence of evidence’ as ‘evidence of absence’ meaning that if no specific studies are available for certain factors to assess risk then DAFF do not need to consider these at all,” said Mr Churchill.
“Currently there is just too much new information coming to light. What DAFF should do is re-examine its entire Import Risk Analysis. Why is it so essential to rush into these new arrangements and risk hundreds of millions of dollars worth of agricultural production?” said Mr Churchill.
MEDIA CONTACT: William Churchill – Public Affairs Manager, AUSVEG
Phone: (03) 9822 0388, Mobile: 0411 166 748, Email: email@example.com