Saying farewell to organic seed imports and goodbye to Australian food sovereignty?
I’ve signed a petition to the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water because Australia is a party to the UN’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
I oppose government quarantine cost cutting because it directly restricts access by growers to the genetic diversity of crops, and denies business and consumers the right to choose to import, retail and buy pesticide-free seed.
Rather than cutting jobs and the level of service provided by front line Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) staff – the people protecting Australia from imported pests and diseases – it would make us all more secure if imported seed were adequately tested prior to release for on-selling.
Viruses cannot be eliminated by dousing seed in chemicals, as the government proposes, but examining seed germinated from imports by qualified inspectors in a secure quarantine facility can. And this approach also secures continued access to a diversity of organic seed for Australian businesses and consumers, honouring Australia’s international obligations and consumer rights.
Australia was once free of Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic virus (CGMMV), however it was imported on more than one occasion in 2017. The importation of this virus was a direct result of inadequate testing of imported farmer’s seed for conventional (eg non-organic) growers. Chemical treatment would not have prevented these major virus outbreaks which threatened a huge range of valuable crops starting with pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, melon and squash, as testing would have done.
CGMMV has a deservedly bad reputation because it affects more kinds of crop plant than any other virus. In 2016 there was an outbreak in WA, in 2017 there were two outbreaks in Queensland, while an outbreak in the Northern Territory (2014) almost got out of control. Apart from affecting all members of the cucumber family, CGMMV affects banana, bean, beetroot, capsicum, carrot, celery, lettuce, spinach, tomato and daffodil.
Once established, aphids and other sap sucking pests can spread CGMMV into a wide range annuals and weeds, plants which act as host, incubating this disease which can then spread further to reinfect crops into the future. Inspecting seed and testing seedlings for CGMMV and other diseases is proven technology, but it means investing money and employing skilled staff in quarantine.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is about the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It acknowledges these are key to ensuring that the world will produce enough food to feed its growing population while our climate changes into the future.
In 2001, the legally binding International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture came into existence and the Treaty entered into force on 29th June 2004.
Australia has an international obligation to honour this treaty and a duty to guarantee Australian businesses and consumers have the right to choose pesticide-free seed and access to the widest range of crop varieties.
If Border Security can screen every individual international visitor at airports, AQIS can properly inspect our seed imports, not just the occasional batch. Cost cutting and job losses in Quarantine must be reversed if we are to protect Australian food sovereignty.
I invite you to sign this petition to the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water: ‘Protect our vegetable seed supply’.
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
Patron, National Toxics Network Inc.
Patron, Householders’ Options to Protect the Environment Inc.
16th March 2018