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Imported apples a blight for consumer health.



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Imported apples a blight for consumer health 23 June 2004

Apples sprayed with antibiotics, drenched with chlorine and kept in cold storage for 42 days! That's what consumers could end up eating if the Federal government gives the green light for imported apples from New Zealand.

The consumer health alarm was sounded by Queensland Senator Len Harris, who warned that t oday is the last opportunity for comments on the Revised Import Risk Analysis for apples from New Zealand. He says imported apples will ruin Australia's $358 million a year industry.

"The main threat to our apple industry is fire blight (Erwinia amylovora), a bacterial

disease rampant in New Zealand. Application of the antibiotic Streptomycin is the only effective form of chemical control New Zealand growers have to combat fire blight."

"Australian apples are free from antibiotics, it is illegal to use streptomycin on the fruit here. Why would you want to bring in apples that have been treated with antibiotics, when there are perfectly good apples grown here by Australian farmers?

Senator Harris also raised concerns about the quarantine procedures supposed to protect Australia's industry from New Zealand apples infected with fire blight.

"Australia would require a post -harvest chlorine drench, orchard inspections and 42 days of cold storage before shipping."

"In April this year, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties investigating the US Free Trade Agreement heard evidence that a chlorine dip would not safeguard against fire blight. Because an apple floats, and the calyx of the fruit is underneath, it forms an air pocket, the Fire blight bacteria can quite easily survive a chlorine dip drench."

"Furthermore, keeping apples in cold storage is no guarantee that fire blight will be eliminated. Below freezing temperatures in New Zealand and the US do not kill fire blight, and the disease could easily be covered up during an orchard inspection."

Senator Harris also warned consumers about new genetically engineered apples that could soon be commercialised. DPI Scientists in Victoria are collaborating with Cornell University in the US to develop new varieties of GE apples and pears with resistance to fire blight. If the disease spreads to Australia, we could see a push to use this biotechnology in our apple orchards. "

"Fire blight is known to reduce apple production by 20% and pear production by 50%, when the disease is severe. Fire blight is endemic in New Zealand, it is complete madness for the Federal Government even to contemplate importing apples which pose such an enormous risk to our industry."

ENDS

Further Details Senator Harris: 07 4092 3194 or 0429 871 008 or 0409 268 150 Also see Media Briefing

MEDIA RELEASE

Senator Len Harris One Nation Queensland

Facts about Imported Apples Fire blight risk

• Fire blight is a very serious exotic bacterial disease of apples and pears and some ornamental species which is present in many parts of the world's apple and pear production districts. Fire blight is a kills blossoms, shoots, limbs, and, sometimes, entire trees In 1997 it was detected in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, and subsequently eradicated. Since that time, extensive ongoing surveys in Australian apple and pear production districts and urban areas have not detected the disease, leading to the conclusion that the disease did not establish in Australia.

• Fire blight has the potential to cause severe production losses in Australian apple and pear orchards as well as disruption to trade. Due to climatic factors, its effect could be pronounced in the Granite Belt apple and pear production area in Queensland. The disease causes scorching of blossoms, shoots and leaves, as if burnt by fire. There are also changes to the branches and trunks, with red areas becoming brown and then black sunken sections on branches and trunks.

• Fire blight seriously affects fruit production worldwide and is present in North America, UK, Europe, Middle East and New Zealand.

• Hosts of fire blight include apple, pear, loquat, quince, cotoneaster, hawthorn, photinia, pyracantha and some other ornamental plants.

• Fire blight epidemics often develop in several different phases, making the disease difficult and costly to control.

What does Fire blight look like?

Use of Antibiotics • Streptomycin is an expensive treatment and even if approved in Aust ralia would add unnecessary costs to the production of apples here.

• Streptomycin is not registered for use in crop plants in Australia. Its use is currently illegal.

• Strains of Fire blight that are resistant to streptomycin are present in some orchards in the eastern United States and are widespread in most apple and pear regions of the western U.S.

MEDIA BRIEFING

In the spring, infected blossoms suddenly wilt and turn brown. Later, twigs and leaves also turn brown and appear to be scorched by fire, hence the common name. The affected leaves usually remain on the tree well into the winter. Young infected fruits become watery or oily in appearance and exude droplets of clear, milky, or amber colored ooze. They later become leathery and turn brown, dark brown, or black, depending on the species. The shrivelled fruit usually remains attached to the tree.