A Victorian fruit and vegetable fumigation facility has been banned from the Tasmanian supply chain after fruit fly larvae were found on a nectarine at a grocery store.
Biosecurity Tasmania, a government agency responsible for the protection of industries from pests and disease, traced the larvae back to an unnamed mainland fumigation facility after the discovery at a Davenport store.
It then ordered a recall of all fruit that originated from the mainland facility, calling the incident a “natural disaster” in terms of potential damage it could do to the state’s economy.
The Department of Primary Industries said it would ramp up produce inspections while investigations continue.
Jeremy Rockliff, primary industries minister, said he had discussed the matter with both federal and Victorian ministers.
“Our system of commercial fruit importation relies on fruit being certified as pest free before it comes into Tasmania, including treatments such as fumigation interstate,” he said.
“A potential breakdown in this system is a very serious problem. However, I am advised by Biosecurity Tasmania that current evidence suggests the supply chain issue relates to a single fumigation facility, which has now been suspended from the supply chain.”
Responding to the reports, Peter Skillern, head of Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA), said instead of blaming Victoria, the situation highlighted Tasmania’s under-resourced biosecurity system.
“This points once again to the critical need for Tasmania to heavily invest in our own biosecurity systems,” he said.
“Clearly we cannot rely, nor should we rely, on other states and countries’ biosecurity systems and this is something that the TFGA has been talking about for the better part of two years.
“We have effectively outsourced our responsibilities to protect this state from incursions of things like fruit fly and now we’re paying the price for that.”
Supermarket chain Coles said all its 16 stores in Tasmania had complied with the Biosecurity Tasmania order and had removed several fresh produce lines from their shelves.
“The department has informed Coles that fruit fly has not been found in any fresh produce in Coles stores or distribution centres,” it said.
“The withdrawal of fresh produce is a precautionary measure aimed at minimising the risk of fruit fly spreading.”
Woolworths said it had also withdrawn produce received from the Victorian facility.
Nick Hansen, Fruit Growers Tasmania president, told ABC Radio that knowing the source of the fruit fly was a positive step.
“We’ve always suspected it was from incoming fruit that hasn’t been treated correctly and we’ve now had that confirmed so now that we can control the fruit fly and get back on with reinsuring we achieve our pest-free status,” he said.
Hansen urged the government to step up fruit inspection.
“The government spent a lot of money on sniffer dogs and airports and Spirit of Tasmania inspections and the risk of fruit coming through those avenues is very low compared to the volume of fruit that comes in from the mainland through the controlled areas … we need to, obviously, ramp up that inspection process now,” he said.
“We need to lift the lid of more boxes of fruit coming into this state.”
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