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Diseased asparagus stopped at Melbourne airport

Diligent work by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service has ensured that a serious disease of asparagus was kept out of Victoria, the centre of Australia's $462 million industry.

AQIS staff at Melbourne airport found more than 20 diseased asparagus plants when they checked a declaration form filled out by a passenger arriving from Italy. Inspection of his luggage revealed the asparagus plants were complete with roots, stems and crowns and were infected by an exotic fungus.

The plants were immediately sent to the quarantine plant pathology laboratory at Knoxfield, where they were identified as carrying Uredo, a fungal 'rust' that could devastate the asparagus industry - reducing returns, increasing production cost and the need for pesticides, and leading to the loss of valuable export markets.

Victoria is a leader in asparagus production, with almost three quarters of Australia's total cultivation.

The plants were destroyed as soon as the fungus had been identified. The discovery of this potentially devastating disease reinforces the need for everyone arriving in Australia - including Australians returning home - to be aware of our quarantine laws and to declare any items of concern on their Incoming Passenger Card.

AQIS has an array of tools to catch anyone trying to smuggle plant items into Australia, including detector dog beagles and state of the art X-ray equipment.

AQIS has a comprehensive website located at www.australia.org.nz

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