The South Korean Government has banned the importation of potatoes from the United States last week as a result of concerns from the South Korean government regarding the presence of Zebra Chip disease.

Zebra Chip disease is the result of a destructive bacterium that changes starch and sugar levels in potatoes making them taste foul as well as making them look burnt when cooked.

Zebra Chip disease has been wreaking havoc on the American Potato industry since the 1990’s and is now being found in the major potato growing regions of Washington State, Idaho and Oregon. In 2011 the US sent 16,700 tonnes of potatoes to South Korea, which is the leading Asian importer of US potatoes.

“The actions of the South Korean government should set an example for DAFF Biosecurity about the appropriate level of caution when dealing with the Zebra Chip disease,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager William Churchill.

Currently the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity are reviewing the conditions to permit the importation of fresh potatoes from New Zealand into Australia for processing. New Zealand, like the USA, is infested with the Zebra Chip disease as well as the Tomato-potato Psyllid.

AUSVEG is the National Peak Industry Body representing the interests of Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers.

“Why is it the South Korean government is taking the appropriate action to ban imported potatoes from the USA while our own government wants to open the flood gates to New Zealand potatoes, infested with the same disease potentially risking billions of dollars of agricultural produce?” said Mr Churchill.

DAFF Biosecurity is adamant that their import conditions report has a firm scientific founding but they have been unwilling to discuss the details about how their proposed import measures have taken evidence from new research into account.

“There is major scientific evidence available now that shoots some real holes into what DAFF have based their assumptions on to prepare the import conditions. It is absurd that DAFF think they have been able to comprehensively consider the risks when we are still learning so much more about this pest,” said Mr Churchill.

Most consumers will think this remains a farming issue, but the consumer will be impacted the most by Zebra Chip disease. In New Zealand the biggest single complaint from customers is about quality of their potato chips, complaining that infected chips taste foul and look burnt.

“If the Psyllid and Zebra Chip get into Australia the consumer will lose out, small businesses will lose out and there will be far reaching consequences as a result of this pest. The government needs to reassess its position on the importation of New Zealand potatoes to take this into account,” said Mr Churchill.

“Considering that New Zealand industry figures are saying that potato production on the North Island is on a knife’s edge because of this pest, why would any government rush into allowing imported potatoes from infected countries? DAFF Biosecurity should take a leaf out of the South Korean biosecurity handbook and deem importing potatoes to be too big a risk to domestic industry,” said Mr Churchill.