Agreement to import bananas from the Philippines leads to grower fears and IGA ban

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 5th March 2009

A Federal Government decision to allow bananas to be imported from the Philippines has been met with great concern by growers and the Queensland Government, while a leading supermarket chain has announced they will endeavour to avoid the imported bananas.

With the bulk of banana production in Queensland, the state would be the hardest hit by Biosecurity Australia’s final decision to allow bananas to be imported from the Philippines, according to peak horticulture organisation Growcom.

Chief Advocate Mark Panitz said that the industry was not confident that the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) could adequately protect the industry under the terms required by the Import Risk Analysis (IRA) due to the nature of diseases such as Moko, black Sigatoka and Freckle.

“The risks that black Sigatoka and other major diseases present to our industry mean there is no margin for error where the Philippines’ compliance with the proposed risk management measures is concerned,” Mr Panitz claimed. “If not picked up, disease outbreaks would drastically impact on the incomes and livelihoods of banana growers with flow-on effects to their communities.”

“While the recommended quarantine measures under the IRA look good in theory, the devil is, as always, in the detail and in how these measures work in practice on the ground,” he added. “Detection of these diseases requires complex science and the industry is not confident that AQIS has the resources to adequately protect the local industry. Indeed, the federal government’s recent Beale review has confirmed that position after the debacle of the equine influenza outbreak.”

“The last black Sigatoka outbreak in 2001 took two years to get under control and saw an entire major banana production area centred on Tully shut-down. Control required the destruction of infected plants and banana replacement programs costing the industry millions of dollars,” Mr Panitz advised. “In our state election policy statement outlining key horticulture issues, we have sought the next state government’s support for major additional funds of $40 million over three years to deliver on the Queensland biosecurity strategy 2009-20014.”

Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Minister, Tim Mulherin, said the decision was “ill advised and just plain wrong”.

“I have telephoned my federal counterpart Tony Burke to register Queensland’s anger at this decision,” he said. “The Queensland Government has consistently opposed the importation of bananas from the Philippines.”

The Senate has referred the importation of Cavendish bananas from the Philippines’ to the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport.

The Department of Primary and Fisheries has also lodged a submission.

“The Queensland Government appealed against the importation of bananas on the basis that the import risk analysis undertaken by Biosecurity Australia failed to properly consider the risks of pests and disease,” Mr Mulherin reported. “Our appeal was rejected.”

“The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service needs to know that Queensland will be holding them to account,” Mr Mulherin warned.

Supermarket chain IGA has said they will be recommending a ban on Filipino bananas at their 1270 stores while local product remains available.