FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has ordered his own report on another sample of ginger in the wake of finding live nematodes within a batch imported to Sydney.
It comes as another major horticulture group has called for the cessation of ginger imports.
Facing the media after the discovery came to light, Mr Joyce said he’d sent his department to acquire further imported ginger to do its own testing.
“That is happening right now,” he said. “I don’t take these things lightly and we have been on this from the moment we heard about it.”
But he did not give a time frame for when the report would be ready.
“We have to allow the appropriate scientists to go through it forensically and check,” he said.
“We’ll also want to see the data that’s come back from Queensland noting that this was not done by our department so we are relying on the investigations of another department.
“I’m not saying they are not competent, I’m sure they are absolutely competent but they are not answerable to me to I’ve got to get people who are answerable to me.”
Mr Joyce went to great lengths to show he understood the difference between the destructive shallow burrowing Radopholus simillis nematode (which Australia does not have) and the deep burrowing Meloidogyne spp (root knot nematode, present in Australia).
"The methyl bromide (surface spray) process which we use for the treatment kills our epidermal nematode (burrowing nematode). It doesn't kill the deep burrowing one (root knot nematode), nor is it supposed to," he said.
He also defended the decision not to suspend further ginger imports.
“To suspend imports, I’d have to say why I’m suspending imports and you can’t suspend imports if they are finding a pest that’s not actually a problem because we already have it here in Australia,” he said.
“I’m confident that the process we have is doing the job and if it wasn’t, then we’d be having a report here of an epidermal nematode, and then we’d be having a completely different conversation.”
Mr Joyce has asked the department to confirm the import conditions currently applied to fresh ginger from Fiji are appropriate and will prevent entry of quarantine pests of concern.
National vegetable body Ausveg has backed the call to stop Fijian ginger imports.
Ausveg spokesperson Andrew MacDonald said the fact that a live organism has made it through fumigation treatment, and made its way on to Australian shores from overseas, raises some serious concerns.
“The department has sought to downplay the discovery of the pest, stating the root knot nematode detected in the Fijian ginger is already present in Australia, and therefore ‘not a pest of quarantine concern’,” Mr MacDonald said.
“What it doesn’t address, however, is that quarantine fumigation has failed to kill the roundworm, and that next time it could be a far more damaging pest that slips through the net.”
Ausveg has previously raised concerns in relation to the Federal Import Risk Analysis process amid fears fresh potato imports from New Zealand could result in infestations of the devastating tomato-potato psyllid and zebra chip disease in Australia.
“It is imperative that the Department of Agriculture heeds the warnings of industry groups, scientists and the Senate Committee, especially when any breach could have serious and destructive impacts on the health and viability of Australian horticulture,” Mr MacDonald said.