BANANA IMPORTS SLEIGHT OF HAND?
By BIANCA CLARE
NICKY Singh was still scratching his head yesterday.
The Coffs Coast banana grower said he had been left as perplexed as everyone else about why the Federal Government had kept a closely guarded secret ? its importation of 11 tonnes of frozen banana pulp from Vietnam.
Mr Singh, the vice president of the Australian Banana Growers' Council, couldn't understand why he was not informed by Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) officials about the import arrangement before the product arrived on our shores.
Mr Singh said local growers now feared exotic diseases could be brought into the country.
Nambucca Valley grower Gary McCudden said there was a real concern about the type of pest and disease risk assessment that had been done.
"I am worried about what steps have been taken to ensure the exporter complied with Australian treatment protocols," he said.
"My understanding is that AQIS is relying on the word of the company in Vietnam that the product is up to our high standards.
"I would like to see proof that there is no disease risk."
Mick Gentle, president of the Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour Banana Growers' Association, said he was also unhappy about the backhand nature in which he found out about the imports.
"I only heard about it through media reports so I have to ask myself what the Government has got to hide," he said.
"The Prime Minister told banana growers that he would not allow imports of fresh bananas until the industry got back on its feet, now I wouldn't be too sure."
Carson Creagh, Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) spokesperson, said banana growers should not be concerned about quarantine standards.
"Frozen banana pulp poses less of a disease risk then fresh bananas do and we don't believe there is a pathway for contamination to occur," he said.
"The fruit was washed, peeled, steamed to 95 degrees C, then frozen to ? 20 degrees C before it even left Vietnam.
"At the moment the bananas are being cold stored in Homebush Bay.
"From there they will go to manufacturing factories for use in cakes, confectionery and ice-cream. No raw product will go anywhere near the banana plantations or be released for retail to the public."
The member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, said the Government had not broken its promise to Queensland farmers regarding imports.
"We remain committed to our current position, that is not allowing imported fresh bananas into Australia," he said.