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The day our science-based quarantine system died.

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Senator John Cherry Australian Democrats Agriculture spokesperson

19th February 2004 MEDIA RELEASE 04/095

The day our science-based quarantine system died Australia's reputation as a clean, disease free agricultural producer is now under threat along with thousands of jobs in the banana, pig and apple industries following the decision today by Biosecurity Australia to lift import restrictions from disease-prone countries, say the Australian Democrats.

Democrats’ Agriculture spokesperson said he was 'staggered' by the Import Risk Assessment reports on bananas, pigmeat and apples and pears released today, which break with long standing practice by ignoring Australia's long-held conservative scientific approach to quarantine.

"Today, February 19, will be remembered as the day Australia abandoned our rigorous science-based quarantine system and agreed to 'political fixes' on import issues to the detriment of Australian farmers," Senator Cherry said.

"The import rules on bananas, apples and pigmeat have been the most controversial ones facing Biosecurity Australia in recent years. Today's scorecard stands at Australian farmers nil, importers from disease infested countries - three out of three.

"Eighteen months ago, Biosecurity Australia (BA) concluded that Moko disease ‘is very likely to be present on fruit harvested for export’ from the Philippines and that imports should not be allowed. Yet today, despite no new scientific evidence the Government will accept Filipino ‘assurances’ that bananas will only be sourced from ‘disease free’ plantations.

"Anyone who believes that such a weak protocol, run by the Philippines, will keep Moko out of Australia needs their head read. If Moko gets into Australia, it will be devastating for our $400 million banana industry, and will harm our clean export reputation.

"On apples and pears, the Senate exposed the flawed processes used by Biosecurity Australia in assessing the risk of fire blight from New Zealand apple imports in 2001.

"All indications were that the bureaucrats would stick to the science. Yet, today's announcement of relying on New Zealand inspectors to ensure fruit comes only from disease free farms, defies belief, cuts across the science and leaves our apple and pear industry exposed.

"The pigmeat IRA released today, was examined by the Senate Committee last week, when we were told there are no cures for PMWS and PRRS, which could wipe 15% off the value of that industry.

"There is no scientific proof that the protocols proposed by BA will eliminate the risk of PMWS or PRRS, yet the Government proposes to lift import bans on pigmeat from countries where these diseases are endemic.

"Only last week, the Australian Government agreed to set up a 'technical working group' including trade officials to work on quarantine issues as part of the US Free Trade Agreement.

"It is clear that continuing political pressure from other countries and our own trade officials is impacting on Biosecurity Australia, leading to the science being compromised and ignored, our quarantine standards being lowered and our farmers being sold out," Senator Cherry concluded.

For more information or to arrange an interview: Pam Hose 0408 752 750