Despite pest fears, Chinese apple imports to go ahead

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 1st July 2010

The Federal Government has given the green light to apple imports from China today, following a recommendation by Biosecurity Australia.

Fears of infestation by the spotted-wing fruit fly, Drosophila suzukii, a pest present in China and indigenous to south-east Asia, have caused concern among Australian apple growers, particularly because the original risk analysis did not cover this insect.

A final risk analysis from Biosecurity Australia, released yesterday, includes a reference to spotted wing Drosophila (‘SWD’) at the request of the Import Risk Analysis Appeals Panel, after two appeals to the panel were disallowed.

“Biosecurity Australia is currently conducting a separate pest risk analysis for SWD,” reads the final risk analysis.

“Stakeholders will have an opportunity, through a 60-day period, to comment on the pest risk analysis for SWD, including any measures proposed to manage this pest.”

“Although SWD is present in China, all available scientific information from Asia, Europe and the United States indicates that SWD is a pest of soft fruits, not hard skinned fruits, such as apples and pears.”

Despite these assurances, Biosecurity Australia’s own warnings on SWD are dire, with the species’ risk analysis specificially identifying the pest as one capable of causing infestation through host fruit:

“Unlike other drosophila species, this pest has been recorded to cause damage to commercial fruit before harvest, and may be on the pathway for traded host fruit. By late 2009, Drosophila suzukii had been confirmed to cause damage to fruit of caneberries (e.g. raspberries), cherries, stone fruit, strawberries and blueberries in North America. It has recently been confirmed to be affecting grapes in North America and is known to damage grapes in Japan.”
“To address the risk posed by high risk commercial fruit, Australia is introducing emergency measures to ensure Drosophila suzukii does not enter and establish in Australia through the trade in host commodities. Emergency measures will be implemented for high risk commercial fruit before the 2010 trade season commences.”

Apple and Pear Australia spokesperson John Corboy says Australian apple growers aren’t happy that Biosecurity Australia has not yet conducted its own tests on what fruits are affected by the pest.

“They say they don’t believe it’s a pest of apples – we say there’s simply not enough information,” he said. “They’re a scientific organisation – they need to base their decisions on science, not extrapolation.”

“Very simply, we have a country that’s relatively free of pests and diseases and we should make no apologies in wanting to keep it that way.”

It is expected that Chinese apples could be available in Australia within two months.