Fruit fly fiasco becomes blame game
For the first time in two decades, South Australia's fruit fly-free status is now under threat with two outbreaks in its main fruit growing area last month. The Riverland district, which grows about half the state's grapes and 90% of its citrus and stone fruit, had strict quarantine restrictions in place, affecting about 30 growers. The move came after 11 Queensland fruit fly males were found less than 50km from Biosecurity South Australia's fruit-fly road block, about 120km west of Mildura. The outbreaks were most likely caused by infested fruit that came through there.
And the blame, according to Agriculture Minister Gail Gago, can be laid at the NSW and Victorian governments' door.
In a strongly worded statement, Ms Gago said South Australia had been put at risk because interstate eradication efforts had largely been abandoned. “It is no surprise that some Queensland fruit fly would find their way here.” Some criticism, however, made its way back.
"I think it's very unfortunate that South Australia is pointing the stick as they are, around an issue that they have to control themselves," said Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh.
NSW and Victoria gave up their fight against the fruit fly last year when they deregulated restrictions on the movement of untreated fruit across most of their states. From July last year, Queensland fruit fly host produce coming into these two states no longer needed to be treated or certified - except for the Greater Sunraysia Pest Free Area.
THE NEW CONDITIONS?
That the fruit is free of Queensland fruit fly. This Greater Sunraysia Pest Free Area is a relatively new zone located within the existing Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone stretching across NSW, Victoria and South Australia, where there is a high value of horticultural crops including citrus, table grapes and stone fruit.
Since the changes in regulations, there have been continuous outbreaks of fruit fly. “In the Greater Sunraysia area 22 outbreaks are being managed and more than 600 detections of Q-fly have been made so far this financial year,” Ms Gago said. In fact, NSW DPI website lists 17 fruit fly infestations in the Greater Sunraysia area this January.
Each infestation has resulted in a 15 kilometre restriction. The department has hit back at criticism, saying NSW has strict biosecurity measures in place to protect its $12 billion agricultural industry. “This includes research and advisory service on Queensland fruit fly management across NSW,” a spokesperson said. “Depending on the status of the area, the DPI remains committed to assisting industry in managing fruit fly and will continue to provide ongoing support to producers.”
This support includes trapping to provide area freedom from exotic fruit flies, including Mediterranean fruit fly, market access negotiations, certification, technical advice and broader fruit fly management co-funded research. For South Australia's fruit industry, this is not enough. “Queensland fruit fly is endemic in some parts of Victoria and New South Wales and reports continue of fresh detections and outbreaks,” Ms Gago said. A week after the Queensland fruit fly outbreak, Mediterranean fruit fly larvae were detected in home-grown apricots in the small town of Sellicks Beach, South Australia. A 1.5 kilometre quarantine area and a 7.5 kilometre restriction zone were set up. Ms Gago told media it was unrelated to the Queensland fruit fly outbreak and was unlikely to affect grape growers in the nearby McLaren Vale. South Australia still maintains its fruit fly-free status because of its quarantine measures, which includes a round-the-clock station at Yamba, near the Victorian border.
Meanwhile South Australian Liberal Senator Anne Rushton has joined a growing number of voices calling on the states to take a unified approach Unlike SA, the Victorian and NSW governments do not have roadblocks on the highways leading to Sunraysia from the Griffith area of NSW, or Victoria's Goulburn Valley, where Queensland fruit fly is endemic.
Senator Ruston told media: “The flies didn't get here by themselves, and it's a significant concern that there have been outbreaks in other states.
“We have to make sure we can protect ourselves. “What's most frustrating is that for the past six or seven years, the National Farmers Federation's fruit-fly strategy, which proposes a whole set of initiatives for preventing fruitfly outbreaks, has been sitting on the shelf.” She said the states should join forces and establish a national facility to breed sterile male flies for fruit-fly control. Citrus Australia chair Tania Chapman told ABC Radio unified efforts were needed to combat the scourge.
“Quite clearly what we do need to do is to get all of the parties at the same table and really define what are the tools we've got, what are the tools we need, and really start to make a plan to go forward,” she said.
For Queensland, the focus is on keeping other species of fruit fly out of the country. Only the native Queensland fruit fly and the introduced Mediterranean fruit fly are in Australia, yet many species that could potentially cause major disruption to the horticultural trade have not gained entry. Many exist within in neighbouring countries.
The papaya fruit fly outbreak in North Queensland in 1995 was an expensive lesson, costing millions of dollars to eradicate and for growers to meet quarantine restrictions for export.
Queensland's Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) said continuing vigilance is required to reduce the possibility of a major fruit fly outbreak occurring again.
This is provided by a network of fruit fly traps throughout high-risk areas of Queensland as part of a national surveillance system.
This network also provides evidence to trading partners of Queensland's and Australia's continuing freedom from exotic fruit fly. Some export destinations will not accept produce without this evidence.
Results from each week's trap run are recorded in a computer database and reported to the Office of the Chief Plant Protection Officer in Canberra.
“The detection of an exotic fruit fly triggers the implementation of a contingency plan to delimit the incursion and possibly eradicate the species should an outbreak occur,” according to DAFF.