Imported apples from New Zealand will be heavily scrutinised by the Australia and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) after Australia expressed concerns that the fruit may be carrying a harmful disease that could affect its crop.

Officials from the watchdog body confirmed that they would be examining the current proposals under which apples could be imported into Australia without risk of spreading the devastating fire blight disease, currently endemic in New Zealand.

Plans to subject Apple imports to chlorine dipping, chemicals or irradiation as a final safety measure to kill the disease before it can reach Australia’s orchards have already come under fire for potentially rendering the fruit with a harmful residue.

Food safety issues are as important as the spread of the disease said Labor Senator Michael Forshaw, who commented, “I would have thought [that certain measures suggested to kill the disease] might have raised issues about fitness for human consumption.”

Ian Lindenmayer, CEO of ANZFA, explained to a Senate estimates hearing that any procedures were still subject to approval, without which no imports will go ahead. “All of those [procedures…] are first to be subject to a risk assessment. In regard to processes such as irradiation […] it is necessary to get prior approval.”

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Apple and pears growers in Australia are adamant that fruit imports from New Zealand should be blocked because of the associated disease risks. Quarantine authority Biosecurity Australia, which received the application from New Zealand, is still considering the responses to its proposals.

Related story: AUSTRALIA: Fears that quarantine measures for NZ fruit rely on banned chemical