The ban on imports of New Zealand fruit may well be lifted soon, but with a condition. After receiving a request from the Australian government to review the ban (itself prompted by the New Zealand government), the Australian Food and Grocery Council has said that fruit may be imported if tougher quarantine rules are introduced, including making the fruit subject to compulsory radiation treatment before entering Australia.

The food industry body displayed strong backing for pear and apple growers by proposing the measures in a submission to Biosecurity Australia yesterday (6 February), because of fears that the devastating fire blight bacteria could spread from New Zealand with fruit cargoes.

According to the submission, the safeguards already proposed by Biosecurity are inadequate, underestimating the risks of fire blight and too concerned with trade factors. Instead, irradiation prior to shipment could eradicate the chances of disease transmission, and prove the most effective form of disinfection.
The submission also provided details of stringent measures designed to keep fire blight at bay. These included a total ban on wooden harvesting bins, which are difficult to sanitise, more intensive inspections of 10% of tress, the inspection of 3-4% sample sizes on fruit arriving from New Zealand and detection zones around export blocks to be increased from 50 metres to preferably 500 metres.

The council’s proposals also called for tougher regulation of those not following the rules. If a packinghouse or exporter is de-registered three times in a decade, the submission recommended that they be permanently excluded.

Experts believe that if the fire blight disease is introduced to Australia, it will be impossible to eradcitate. Poor quarantine regulations could eventually lead to devastation within the apple, pear, nursery and honey industries.