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Farmers call for biosecurity action on imported flowers

By Jamie Salter

Farmers are demanding action from the Federal Government against biosecurity non-compliance in imported cut flowers, which threatens Australia’s agriculture sector.

Imported cut flowers can carry pests and diseases that impact broadacre and horticulture crops.

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the government had been taking strong action on biosecurity threats like African swine fever, and it was time for a consistent approach across the board.

“The NFF and our members have been asking for a tougher line to be taken against importers of cut flowers who send contaminated product to Australia,” Mr Mahar said.

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture introduced an import permit system for shipments of cut flowers and foliage to Australia from Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador, following biosecurity concerns raised by industry.

“Unfortunately, this system has not reduced non-compliance from imported cut flowers to a level that is acceptable,” Mr Mahar said.

“The current non-compliance rates of up to 50 to 60 per cent from some importers are too high; even 25 per cent, one in four, frankly, just does not pass the pub test given the risk this poses to our industries.”

AUSVEG national public affairs manager Tyson Cattle said cut flower imports should be under the same biosecurity protocols as all other imported products.

“Flowers imported from Kenya, Ecuador and Colombia make up a majority of the value of Australia’s imported cut flowers and foliage industry, but this $70 million trade should not jeopardise the viability of Australia’s plant industries and the broader agriculture industry, valued at $62 billion, which creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and is the lifeblood of many regional and rural communities,” Mr Cattle said.

Mr Mahar said the most effective and economical way to protect Australia from pests and diseases was at the border.

“Once a pest or disease gets through the Australian border it’s up to industry and the Australian taxpayer to bear the costs of eradication,” he said.

“If eradication isn’t possible, industry pays through ongoing costs of management and lost production and markets.

“We call on the government to stop going soft on flower imports and stand up for the future of our hard-working growers, growers who collectively support hundreds of thousands of jobs and who are the lifeblood of our regional communities.”