How long it took to grant conditional potato import licence

SA potato imports: Biosecurity Tasmania releases statement of reasons

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Tasmanian farmer group to meet next week to discuss next moves.

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South Australia declared itself free of declared potato pest bacterial wilt only five months before the Tasmanian Government granted an import approval licence for fresh, whole potatoes to enter the state.

Biosecurity Tasmania released its statement of the reason behind its controversial decision to approve a request from SA-based Mitolo Group, to import potatoes into Tasmania.

A significant reason that factored into the decision is SA's freedom of area status for the two declared pests that would restrict import agreements for potatoes - potato cyst nematode and bacterial wilt.

In the document, Biosecurity Tasmania chief plant heal manager Andrew Bishop said SA had achieved freedom of area status for both the pests.

However, the document shows SA achieved bacterial wilt freedom in February, and the application request from Mitolo filed in April and granted June.

The state achieved freedom of area status for potato cyst nematode in December 2019. A guide to pests and diseases published by industry body Ausveg states bacterial wilt is well-established in all states and territories except Tasmania.

"Lightly infected tubers, which show no visible symptoms, pose a serious threat of spreading the disease to new areas. If a paddock is infected with bacterial wilt the disease may remain in it for five or six years after the initial outbreak," the guide reads.

Tasmanian potato farmers and the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association raised concerns about the potential for disease contamination in the products, with no control over the end product, such as scraps.

However, Mr Bishop said in the document he application by Mitolo was restricted to washed potato tubers sold as fresh, whole potatoes, for human consumption.

Premier Peter Gutwein on Wednesday said the consultation process that was undertaken by DPIPWE "was not what you would expect it to be."

Farmers and the TFGA vegetable council said there was no consultation done before last week when revelations about the approval were revealed during Question Time. However, since then, DPIPWE has met with farmers and the TFGA and released the document to explain its reasoning.

However, TFGA vegetable council chairman Nathan Richardson said the document didn't provide as much detail as they hoped it would.

He said farmers and the vegetable council are meeting on Monday to discuss further steps to fight the conditional approval.

Labor Primary Industries spokesman Shane Broad on Wednesday called for an immediate injunction of the approval to stay the threat to Tasmania's industry.

"The government's continual failure to consult with the industry is reckless and alarming and the entire Tasmanian industry is rightfully furious that their investments and livelihoods have been put at risk by the Liberals," Dr Broad said.

"For companies like Agronico, the perceived increase in risk alone could have the potential to scuttle new export market opportunities like Indonesia.

"Having spent $3.3 million upgrading their Spreyton facilities last year, including a $1.69 million Liberal grant, this is a major threat to Agronico and they deserve answers and action."

However, Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett described the claims by Dr Broad as "playing politics."

"Our biosecurity system is based on science and evidence, independent of political opinion, and is underpinned by a nationally and internationally recognised cooperative approach," he said.

He said claims by Dr Broad the import risk assessments were out of date was wrong, but "a usual three-yearly review covering potato imports" will start immediately.

"I also recently wrote to our major supermarkets urging them to continue to stock locally bought produce, and I am very pleased they have now reported they have no intention of stocking imported potatoes," he said.

The story How long it took to grant conditional potato import licence first appeared on The Examiner.

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