Australian banana growers fear biosecurity risk from Northern Territory lifting quarantine

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st August 2012

Australia’s peak banana industry body has expressed outrage over the Northern Territory Government’s decision to lift a quarantine restriction protecting the rest of Australia’s banana industry from the spread of a serious banana plant disease common in the Territory.

Panama disease is a destructive fungal disease of banana plants. Tropical strain 4 is particularly devastating to Cavendish bananas, one of Australia’s banana primary crops.

Australian Banana Growers Council President Doug Phillips said the ABGC was calling for the immediate reinstatement of quarantine restrictions.

“The decision by the Northern Territory’s Department of Resources to abandon the quarantine areas is outrageous and totally unacceptable,” Mr Phillips said.

“The quarantine areas were protecting the nation’s banana industry from the spread of Panama Tropical Race 4. This opens up a totally unacceptable threat to the $450 million national banana industry and banana farming in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. This disease can easily be spread through the movement of soil carried on clothing and boots and on equipment, machinery and trucks,” he said.

The Queensland Agriculture Minister, Liberal MP John McVeigh, said the move risked exposing Queensland’s $400 million banana industry to the devastating banana disease Panama Tropical Race 4.

“This decision could crush Queensland’s banana industry,” Mr McVeigh said.

“I’m calling on the Northern Territory Government to change its mind and reinstate the quarantine for the sake of common sense,” Mr McVeigh added.

However the Northern Territory Government defended its action.

The Northern Territory’s Government’s director of biosecurity, Dr Andrew Tomkins, says that the disease has been spreading in spite of quarantine orders, which has lead the government to consider the lifting of the measures to be appropriate.

Dr Tomkins said that efforts should be focused on cultivating bananas that are resistant to the disease.

Proposed new national biosecurity legislation

Meanwhile, on the wider national scene, the Australian Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in partnership with the Department of Health and Ageing, is calling for public submissions on new biosecurity legislation.

The new legislation is intended to make Australia’s biosecurity system more responsive and streamlined, enabling the Australian Government to better manage the risks of animal and plant pests and diseases entering, establishing, spreading and potentially causing harm to the Australian population, the environment and economy.

The final legislation expected to be considered by a Parliamentary committee and debated in the September 2012 sitting of the Australian Parliament.