California table grape growers yesterday expressed outrage at the Australian government’s announcement that U.S. grapes would not be allowed into that country. The Australian move came yesterday, the latest delay in a decade-long process that was to have opened Australia to U.S. table grapes in July 2000.

“California table grape growers have been working with Australian regulators and scientists since 1989 to open this market,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “The process Australia has used for table grapes has been anything but transparent, and this decision is obviously not based on science. Even Australia’s own scientists have studied the issues involved and found that table grapes from California pose no significant threat to the Australian grape industry.”

In their denial of access, the Australian government claimed that table grape imports from the U.S. could spread Pierce’s disease to existing Australian grape vines. “That contradicts the science,” Nave said. “Pierce’s disease affects grapevines, and can only be spread by certain pests that live in and feed on grape leaves and vines, which are not allowed to be shipped with table grapes.”

Nave cited the findings of Australia’s own scientists within the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) who concluded in July 2000 that U.S. grapes could safely be imported into Australia. AQIS approved a treatment and pest eradication program widely used in the U.S. and other countries — including Australia — for produce shipments.

William Peacock, a scientist with the University of California Cooperative Extension who has studied viticulture for nearly 30 years, agreed that there is no scientific basis for Australia’s claims. “We know that the sharpshooter feeds on grapevines and leaves, not the grape clusters that will be shipped,” Peacock explained. Nave noted that Australia’s own scientists agree with that assessment.

Nave called for a unified response from the U.S. government to clearly state that denying access will have consequences. She said the issue could be raised at the next round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, slated for March 2001. “Australia has gone beyond the bounds of sound science. And WTO agreements clearly state that a country must have a scientific basis for denying market access,” Nave said. “Australia has obligations under the WTO, and we remain hopeful that they will live up to those obligations.”

The California Table Grape Commission is the promotional arm of the state’s table grape industry and its more than 600 farmers. The commission promotes table grapes in the United States and in approximately 21 countries worldwide. Each year, California farmers produce upwards of 85 million boxes of table grapes.