AUSVEG CEO Richard Mulcahy said today that diseased potatoes had the potential to threaten the viability of the entire Australian potato industry if the Australian Federal Government allows potatoes to be imported for processing from New Zealand.

The devastating potato disease ‘Zebra Chip’ disease complex (spread by the tomato-potato psyllid) has caused widespread destruction in New Zealand, and before that in the United States, costing the international potato industry millions of dollars.

“This has the potential to be catastrophic for the Australian potato industry and I must say that I’ve been very surprised at the lack of appreciation for the gravity of this situation by Biosecurity Australia in the discussions we?ve held with them,” Mr Mulcahy said.

The Ministry of Agriculture Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) has formally requested renewed market access for fresh potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), for processing under a Quarantine Approved Premise arrangement (QAP), into Australia.

“The information we’re getting from experts who’ve travelled to New Zealand investigating the devastation this disease has caused there, is that there is so much we don’t know about the disease that we’d be crazy to take the risk by importing potatoes from countries like New Zealand, which we know are highly infected,” Mr Mulcahy said.

“It’s important that the Government fully understands the serious nature of this destructive disease. There is just not a compelling case for putting ourselves at this unnecessary risk,” he said.

AUSVEG is the national peak industry body which represents the interests of potato growers.

“While Biosecurity Australia says that if these potatoes were to be permitted they would only be admitted under a secure regime, scientists are warning the industry that the risks are just too great to take,” Mr Mulcahy said.

“The facts are we still don’t know how the disease reached New Zealand. With due respect to our colleagues in New Zealand, it would be foolish in the extreme for the Australian Government to approve the import of potatoes for processing from New Zealand.”

Potatoes which are exposed to the ‘Zebra chip’ pathogen as it’s known, have black lines resembling the stripes of zebras which make the potatoes unsellable, however, no health risks have been identified in relation the consumption of potatoes which are infected with the disease.

Tomato-potato psyllids are found in the USA, parts of Mexico, southern Canada, and now NZ. It’s been reported that the psyllid caused losses of $43 million for New Zealand producers in 2008/09, with the psyllid alone said to be considerably destructive. But the psyllid can also infect potatoes with Liberibacter, the bacterium which causes ‘Zebra Chip’ in potatoes.


MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew White, Senior Communications Officer, AUSVEG
Phone: (03) 9822 0388, Mobile: 0409 989 575, Email: