Threat of US apple imports

AUSTRALIAN apples may have to compete against US fruit in the domestic market after the federal government’s peak agricultural body recommended imports be permitted, so long as they meet biosecurity requirements.

A risk analysis was published this week by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, four years after requests were made by the US to export to Australia from the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

Australia currently only permits the importation of fresh apples from New Zealand and China provided they meet Australian biosecurity requirements.

Twenty pests have been identified as requiring specific risk management measures to reduce the biosecurity risk to an acceptable level, 14 arthropods and six fungal pathogens.

Chief among the listed pests is Fire Blight, a contagious disease with the ability to wipe out entire orchards of apples and pears that is not currently present in Australia.

Apple & Pear Australia Ltd CEO Phil Turnbull said they did not support the importation of US apples, due to the substantial threat posed to Australia’s biosecurity.

“Given the recent biosecurity incursions, including Varroa Mite and Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, plus the increased threat of Foot-and-mouth disease and Lumpy Skin Disease, any further work to allow the importation of US apples should be halted, Mr Turnbull said.

“Until the Government can guarantee that the right measures are in place to protect Australia’s biosecurity, the Government should stop the process.

“APAL is currently reviewing the details within DAFF’s final report and will share insights on what this means for Australian growers and the industry in due course.”

Michelle Distill’s family has been growing apples in Spreyton for more than a century and says the potential introduction of foreign fruit to an already struggling market is nonsensical.

“I think it’s quite ridiculous to import something we grow significant quantities of ourselves, regardless of what it is, said Ms Distill.

“Apple growers are struggling to make money in the domestic market because it is market driven, you’re only going to get paid what the market is prepared to pay,” she said.

“Bringing in apples will only compound that problem in a similar way that Californian oranges saw Australian growers dumping their fruit.”

Fruit Growers Tasmania, which had a submission entered to the draft policy in 2021, said they were unhappy with the lack of consultation.

“This has been at least a year-and-a-half in the making and we’ve had no consultation on the final draft, said PGT CEO Peter Cornish.

“We’re not at all happy and we’ll be seeking to get a review, we’ve got some serious questions to ask.”