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Australia: Organic producers threatened by proposed new import rules for seeds

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Sprouted seed © Pixabay

Australian food producers are feeling threathened by the Agricultural Department's proposal to mandatorily treat imported seeds with fungicides. Photo © Pixabay

Lately, the Australian Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has proposed a compulsory treatment of seeds from crops like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and rocket with fungicides, when they enter Australia to work against the increasing threat posed by seed-borne pathogens. The proposal follows the department’s introduction of mandatory fungicide treatments for some melons earlier this year.

Producers of organic food have warned that implementing a proposal to spray imported vegetable seeds with fungicides could result in a reduction of available organic vegetables, damages of the organic export industry as well as people losing their jobs. Over 98% of vegetable seeds used in Australia are imported from other countries, the country’s food producers are thus highly dependent on their ability to adapt to climate changes quickly.

Frances Michaels, Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies CEO, has started an online petition against the government’s proposal, which demands: “Protect our vegetable seed supply from toxic fungicide treatments becoming mandatory.” On the petition website Michaels writes: “The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources through the Biosecurity Import Conditions System (BICON) is changing the import rules in a way that is only visible to ‘stakeholders’. This process is invisible to the wider Australian community. On the surface it appears to accept submissions but it has no accountability to explain why it makes the final choices it does. I believe that as a result of these changes, we are at risk of losing something very precious, our vegetable biodiversity and with it, our future food security.” The petition has already attracted more than 23,500 supporters.

The department proposing the fungicidal treatment commented that the proposed changes to import rules were “to ensure ongoing protection for Australia’s vegetable industry from increasing biosecurity risks”. Furthermore, it explained: “The proposed mandatory treatment (...) will help manage the risk of these pathogens being introduced to Australia.”

The government invited several groups to feedback the department over the proposal – one of these groups is the industry body Australian Organic. The draft proposal is available for public comment until April 19.





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