An article posted at ABC Rural claims that despite public concerns surrounding biosecurity, 500 kilograms of fresh ginger from Fiji will go on sale in Sydney starting tomorrow, to the outrage of horticulture groups.
They cannot accept why the Australian government, which was criticised for its methods of measuring risk from imports and is undergoing a review of its systems, allowed this importation.
In reply, the Department of Agriculture says they still have to do their job while awaiting the final outcomes of the review.
On the other hand wholesalers are worried about the effect of the Fijian imports on the market and fear that it may bring down ginger prices.
The Australian Ginger Growers Association’s Anthony Rehbein is furious.
“I’m bitter, I’m disappointed… and quite frankly, I won’t be voting for that particular government again,” Mr Rehbein said.
He believes that the research to develop stronger defences against the burrowing nematode, a virulent strain of roundworm, is insufficient and fails to address the problem.
According to Mr Rehbein and a Senate Committee report, ensuring that the ginger imports are free of soil and fumigating them with the surface spray, methyl bromide, have little effect. This is due to the fact that the roundworm lives inside the ginger.
But a Department of Agriculture spokesperson refuted this and says that the spray is able to penetrate and reach the roundworms. They also claim that import conditions are based on the best science available and their standards are at par with World Trade Organisation regulations.
The spokesperson goes on to say that the results of the import risk analysis review will be considered once these are handed down.
But the results could come too late, says Mr Rehbein.
“The government has not acted efficiently and not thought about the ramifications to industry.”
Another concern is that the threat goes beyond ginger crops, says Rachel McKenzie, of the peak horticulture body Growcom. As the import system is so shoddy, she says the full extent of the damage can’t be measured.
“This particular roundworm, it’s very unknown and it has major implications for ginger and potential implications for other crops, but we just don’t know because there’s been no research done,” she said.
Overseeing and ensuring the proper importation of pineapples from Malaysia is their next goal, she says.
Bill Chalk, President of the New South Wales Chamber of Fruit and Vegetables, takes a more positive view, expecting Fijian ginger to enter the market with good interest.
“Obviously there’s a price advantage because ginger’s been so dear for so long, so people have gone down this path to get the permits to import,” Chalk said.
“I’ve always found that AQIS (inspectors) upon arrival punch way above their weight; they’re very competent.. I don’t think there’s a great fear there for that. Fiji has been a reasonably safe exporter.”