Import bananas won't take over yet

BANANA growers have been assured that Australia will not relax food quarantine arrangements in response to recent flood events across the eastern states or Cyclone Yasi.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, confirmed at the weekend the Federal Government was committed to meeting the highest biosecurity standards possible to protect Australia’s plant, animal and human health status.

It follows claims by Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker that Filipino banana exporters were already moving to exploit the misfortunes of cyclone-affected growers.

“All fresh produce to Australia is subject to rigorous risk analysis processes to determine and manage any quarantine risks,” Senator Ludwig said.

“While the full extent of the impact of the cyclone won’t be known for some days, there are reports of widespread damage to the banana crop in Far North Queensland.

“The Prime Minister has announced immediate assistance for people who’ve been adversely impacted by Cyclone Yasi, including assistance under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy.

“We stand ready to work with affected communities if further assistance is needed, once the Queensland Government has had the opportunity to fully survey the damage.

“In the meantime, the Gillard Government can guarantee that our strict quarantine standards will not be relaxed at the expense of our farming communities.”

Following the completion of an import risk analysis in 2008, Australia’s Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine determined the quarantine policy for the importation of bananas from the Philippines in 2009.

Senator Ludwig said he appreciated the concern generated for banana growers and consumers at the prospect of bananas being imported from the Philippines.

“Although an import risk analysis has been completed for bananas from the Philippines, it would take a number of years to complete any of the required trials before Australia would consider any actual importation,” he said.

Last week, Mr Hartsuyker said Australia invested millions of dollars in quarantine and disease control each year.

“Allowing Philippine bananas into Australia would jeopardise the value of that investment and in my view it is not worth the risk,” Mr Hartsuyker said.

Banana growers are particularly concerned about the possible introduction of the exotic diseases Moko, Black Sigatoka and Freckle, which are prevalent in Filipino bananas.

On Friday the value of a kilogram of bananas had risen to $6 but local growers say prices could hit $14 by June, in line with the prices seen when Cyclone Larry hit Far North Queensland in March 2006.

In recent times prices have fallen as low as $6 per 13kg carton of bananas – the break-even price is about $14 per carton.

It has been estimated more than 85 per cent of the North Queensland banana crop has been levelled by Cyclone Yasi.

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