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'Ghost diseased' pineapples inquiry report delayed

Pineapples on the assembly line at Tropical Pineapples at Yeppoon.
Pineapples on the assembly line at Tropical Pineapples at Yeppoon. Trish Bowman

THE results of the senate inquiry into the import of Malaysian pineapples were due to be handed down today, but the announcement has been postponed until March 20.

The pineapple industry is fighting against the import of Malaysian pineapples as they may bring in a bacteria, Dickeya sp.

The bacteria is resident in Malaysia and causes the pineapples to rot inside, sometimes exploding, giving way to the nickname 'Ghost Disease' from farmers hearing the infected fruit explode during the night.

A spokeswoman from Senator Ron Boswell's office says they delayed the results announcement as an expert in risk assessment matrices had to be called upon, and their report wasn't finalised in time.

Tropical Pineapples managing director Derek Lightfoot called into question the risk assessment matrix used by Biosecurity Australia, suggesting bias towards an outcome of low, very low or negligible - only nine of the 36 possible outcomes are above low risk.

However, a departmental spokesperson denied claims of bias in the matrix, saying it has been in use since 2001.

The method we used to assess risk is consistent with the World Trade Organisation's conservative standards," they say.

"We have applied this same approach dealing with pineapples imported from other countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Solomon Islands."

They say quarantine measures would ensure the bacteria didn't enter Australia.

"The risk analysis for pineapples from Malaysia considered a number of pests and recommended a range of quarantine control measures to manage them to a very low level of risk of entry and establishment and spread," they say.

Mr Lightfoot says the disease has the potential to cripple the industry.

"In its latent form you can't detect it when it enters the country," Mr Lightfoot says.

"... and if it gets spread within Australia we can't eradicate it."

Tropical Pines agronomist Col Scott says the bacteria caused crop losses of up to 40% in Malaysia and 60% in small areas in Hawaii.

He says warnings from scientists and agronomists in affected countries have gone unnoticed.

"Their advice to me was don't touch it," Mr Scott said.

"That advice, I've passed it onto DAFF Biosecurity from two different sources one in Hawaii and one in Malaysia.

"They said it would be grossly irresponsible if Australia allowed the fruit in."

Topics:  andrew cripps, malaysian pineapples, pineapple, senate inquiry




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