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NZ queries Australian fireblight report

NZ queries Australian fireblight report on scientific grounds

New Zealand has filed a submission as part of the Australian Government's risk analysis process to decide whether apple imports should be allowed, Agriculture and Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said apple access measures proposed by Australia in the draft interim risk assessment released in October did not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Furthermore, he said, the time being taken by Australian authorities to sort out this issue was not acceptable.

"New Zealand has been strung along on this issue for many years. Recently, there have been delays for the Olympic Games, and now I am even hearing suggestions the matter might be deferred for the next general election."

Mr Sutton said that in particular, the suggestion that New Zealand growers wait for six orchard inspections over two years before they being cleared for export to Australia, was just ridiculous.

"This and a number of other expensive proposed measures cannot be justified on the basis of the scientific evidence."

Australia will now relook at their assessment in the light of comments submitted by New Zealand and other interested parties.

"Given the solid scientific evidence in New Zealand's submission that they have got it wrong, there should be very significant changes. And we should see a final determination early next year.

Mr Sutton will be meeting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Thursday and will be giving him a firm message.

"As agricultural exporting countries, both New Zealand and Australia expect other countries to respect World Trade Organisation rules for agricultural trade. These include basing sanitary and phytosanitary measures on rigorous scientific analysis."

Mr Sutton was critical of the public debate in Australia, saying the issue was being run as a political campaign, rather than as an honest scientific exercise.

"Some of the comment coming from Australia growers, some politicians, and even trade unionists, is just plain rubbish.

"To suggest that we have acres of orchards blackened by fireblight is outrageous. We have the most efficient and productive apple orchards in the world - not to mention a successful pear export industry. It is time the Australian consumer was introduced to real quality Braeburns, Royal, Gala, and Pacific Rose apples.

"Fireblight is just one of dozens of minor pathogens which are kept under control by normal orchard management ? organic or conventional ? in almost every producing nation. Fire blight has been provably and undeniably identified in the Melbourne public botanical garden in recent years, apparently without it ever affecting commercial orchards.

"The scientific evidence is persuasive ? fireblight is spread through the flowers or by the transfer of budwood. No-one has ever been able to demonstrate it being spread by mature fruit.

"The Australian industry has worked itself up into a lather on the basis of its own ridiculous propaganda."

ENDS

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