IT’S a year to the day since I wrote a column focusing on biosecurity in Tasmania
At the time, blueberry rust was the problem. It causes premature leaf-drop and eventually death of the tree. It’s spread by airborne spores, and can be controlled by the Group 7 fungicide Solatenol.
As I write, the immediate concern is the Queensland Fruit Fly (Qfy). This causes a totally different problem – the fly “stings” fruit to lay eggs which develop into maggots with unpleasant results.
Tasmania prides itself on being fruit fly free. It is a pre-requisite for access to many lucrative export markets, especially in Asia.
This was threatened in January, when fruit fly were detected on Flinders Island. This was soon followed by detections in Spreyton (near Devonport) and Georgetown (north of Launceston).
The latest was early this month, when a single male fly was detected in Franklin (south of Hobart). Taiwan was the first to ban imports of Tasmanian fruit as a result.
There are about 20 fruits grown in Tasmania which could be attacked by the fly, from apple and apricots through to strawberry and tomato. That’s just the start – there are fruits from at least a hundred major and minor hosts imported from warmer climates which are capable of harbouring it.
So, the challenge is to keep infected fruit out of the State, and that is a big challenge.
Fruit can be brought in as something to snack on during the journey by residents returning home and tourists.
There are four airports and the “Spirit of Tasmania” terminal to monitor. Add to that the increasing number of cruise ships and the challenge is obvious.
Not so obvious is the risk of infected fruit in the retail chain – this became a reality when the maggots were detected in produce certified as fruit fly free and prepared for sale at a supermarket in Devonport
The Agriculture Minister was quite polite, according to press reports: “It appears there may have been a failure in the fruit fly free certification process on the mainland, rather than an issue with processes in Tasmania.”
I’ve never seen anyone stopping to jettison fruit.
I decided to check out those processes by making a few phone calls, but that was a mistake. The Biosecurity Operations Branch General Enquiries number in the telephone directory was invalid according to the recorded message when I rang, and I almost gave up on the Department’s General Enquiries number after listening to another recorded message for 10 minutes.
I eventually got through and was assured that my request would be passed on to the appropriate person for action – at the time of writing that was three days ago.
So, looking around the roads, the most obvious process is Fruit Disposal Bins – big ones, the size you use for all your domestic rubbish.
There are huge illuminated signs saying that there is a bin ahead but this is often premature – one of the local ones is well over a kilometre after the sign, and around a bend. I’ve never seen anyone stopping to jettison fruit.
I looked in to a couple and they were empty (in all fairness they may have been just emptied).
It might make more sense to concentrate on where motorists stop then get them to dispose of the fruit, rather then getting them to stop to do this (not the safest of procedures if you’ve got another vehicle on your tail). I mean by this disposal bins at fuel filling stations. Who knows, the fuel companies might finish up as commercial partners in this initiative.