A Food & Travel Blog

NZ apple imports given the go-ahead

19/08/2011 | By

This week the all-clear was given for the importation into Australia of New Zealand apples.  I wrote briefly about the possibility of this at about this time last year here.  For 90 years Australia has sustained a ban on importing apples from New Zealand because of the risk of Fire Blight.   Fire Blight is a contagious, bacterial infection which affects apples and pears, but can also infect quinces, loquats, roses and raspberries.  It causes blackening and shrivelling of flowers, leaves and twigs and the development of cankers on branches.  The disease is most active during the growing season, but persists during the dormant period, too, and is spread by birds, bees, wind and rain.  There is no single, effective treatment for Fire Blight – once we get it, we will have it for ever –  and it may also affect commercial honey production.  Bees are an important vector of the disease and an outbreak of Fire Blight could well result in the quarantine of bee hives in the vicinity.  If Fire Blight were to occur in apple and pear production areas in Australia the cost to the industry is estimated to be as much as 37.5% of the gross value of annual apple and pear production in an industry worth $500 million annually.

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that Australia can no longer uphold this ban, which was brought in to prevent to spread of the disease, because they say  it is a strategy that is not supported by science.  Fire Blight affects dozens of countries around the world, but so far we have managed to escape it – so it seems to me, regardless of the WTO statement, that our strategy has worked so far.  While Biosecurity Australia believes that the risks to Australian crops can be managed, others believe the spread of the disease will be inevitable once the NZ apples begin to come in to the country.  The New Zealand Trade Minister has threatened that our trade reputation will be damaged if we try to block the importation of NZ apples, but the states are seeking ways to take their own measures.  The South Australian government is looking at ways to stop the fruit from entering the state, as is the Tasmanian government – whose apple industry is worth in excess of $70 million  a year.

As an island/continent, one would assume we would be able to keep our shores free of many diseases which affect countries with land borders, and such has been the case to a large extent.  However, in the interests of free trade, it appears we can no longer rely on this and thus the importance of trade and it’s associated economics will take precedence over quarantine and food security.  In fact, this decision will put Australia in a fairly unique position and make us world leaders in one particular area.  While I may be mistaken (and am happy to be shown as such) I believe we are the first country in the world without Fire Blight to import apples from a country that has it.

I’d quite like to have a bit of a chat with whoever  thought that was such a great idea.




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  1. Cakelaw

    Hmmmm, not sure about this one, as much as I love NZ …

  2. Barbara

    As much as I love NZ I am not happy with this decision

  3. Sal

    I think it is a sad world when we cannot protect our shores and choose who we trade with.

  4. Celia

    Very tricky situation. I don’t like the importing of apples at all, at least not without them being treated in some way as we do with honey and garlic. And of course, then I wouldn’t buy them. But the restricting of trade is a very difficult issue – we would and do protest strongly when our exports are blocked…

  5. Ann

    I cannot believe this has been allowed to happen. Sure NZ is a friend but they can surely see that continuing the ban is in Australia’s best interest and we need to look after our own industry. In hindsight, I bet they would have done differently by not allowing infected produce into their own country.
    Besides not buying this produce, how can we stop this ridiculous decision?

  6. Amanda

    Gaye & Barb – I love NZ, too and don’t see why this has to become a major issue in our relationship with them
    Sal – It would seem that the $ rules all.
    Celia – I agree that we are capable of our share of whingeing, but maybe we should all be paying a bit more attention to trade agreements and what they really mean for all parties.
    Ann – ALWAYS check the provenance of your produce, ring your local apple growers association and find out what they recommend in the way of lobbying.

  7. leaf (the indolent cook)

    Oh my apples. Could we still avoid imports to our own discretion despite the ban being lifted? I sure hope so.

  8. InTolerantChef

    We have preserved our food health and viability for so long, it seems a shame to put it at risk through imports, wherever they’re from. I have my personal little boycots on certain imported products whether fresh or tinned- like pineapple, tomatoes, and such. We have to support our farmers first after all.

  9. The Bush Gourmand

    Amanda, I was just about to blog about this issue myself. I think it’s an appalling decision by our government. Does NZ import our apples?

  10. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Why on earth do we need their apples anyway? I would have thought there would be more than sufficient amounts to cater for our apple tastes here already.
    Much frowning during your post Amanda. That just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

  11. Kat Halliwell

    I must agree with cityhippyfarmgirl, why does Australia need NZ apples, anyway? I’m pretty sure Australia can grow apples or maybe import apples from other countries that doesn’t have Fire Blight on their crops. Or is this some sort of revolt from New Zealand since they can’t import their apples to Australia, thus losing some portion of money?

    Oh well, we have a highly capitalized country today and I guess as far as economics is concerned, people are willing to go the distance just to make the end justify the means.

  12. Kate

    Do we need blighted apples – shouldn’t we be just buying and eating our own unblighted apples ???

  13. Andrew Elder

    Not sure that NZ apples = fireblight and those who do are playing us for mugs, as I’ve said elsewhere. We buy plenty of their produce, but they have some fantastic stuff you just can’t get here and it keeps you on your toes to experience that.

    They also buy plenty from us: share the good stuff, people.

  14. tasteofbeirut

    I buy apples from New Zealand all the time and was not aware of all these problems.

  15. Amanda

    Lorraine – like all trade agreements, it is full of pitfalls.
    Leaf – the trick is to be vigilant when you shop – always check the provenance of your fruit.
    Bec – you are so right – if we don’t support our own growers, we will lose the local industry.
    Bush Gourmand – go for it! The more voices the better.
    Brydie – it’s all about the level playing field and trade agreements.
    Kat & Kate – it is non-sensical to import things that we already do really well, isn’t it?
    Andrew – I love New Zealand and lots of their produce, I just don’t think we should import at the risk of our own industry.
    Joumana – this is only really a problem for us as we don’t already have fire-blight here. Many other countries do, so there is not such an issue.