The proposed importation of fresh ginger from Fiji
Additional issues raised by stakeholders
This chapter continues the committee's examination of the issues
surrounding the proposed importation of fresh ginger from Fiji. More
specifically, this chapter outlines the criticisms raised by industry
stakeholders in relation to the evidence relied on by DA Biosecurity in the
preparation of the ginger IRA.
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard a range of concerns
regarding the scientific and other information relied upon by DA Biosecurity in
the preparation of the ginger IRA. Concerns were raised about the quality of
information used and the Department of Agriculture's powers to obtain additional
information by request, or to commission appropriate research.
Stakeholders also raised concerns about what they perceive as a lack of
consultation with industry. The committee received evidence regarding delays in
the provision of relevant information to industry, a lack of transparency in
relation to IRA processes and a lack of communication about changes made to the
Evidence relied on by DA Biosecurity
The quality of the information relied upon in the preparation of the ginger
IRA was questioned by industry stakeholders, including the AGIA which submitted
The other significant concern is that the assessment of risk
by DAFF Biosecurity at each point in the importation process is based on
extremely limited information. There is no doubt that Fijian isolates of R.
similis, for example, cause damage very rapidly, killing plants and
The AGIA maintains that there is, as yet, not enough
information available to use the risk estimation matrix to assess the risk of
importation of pests.
Mr David Peasley, Consultant to the Australian Ginger Association (AGA),
expressed a similar view, and argued that the risk assessment had proceeded in
the absence of sufficient information:
I do not believe that you can make any sort of risk
estimation until you have proper information to start with. That is the
problem. There is just not enough information on which to base a risk analysis.
I believe that it should not be conducted until that information is found. A
big problem with the IRA, I think, is that where there was a lack of information
the risk was decided to be not discernible or negligible.
Stakeholders also argued that where there was an absence of information,
it appeared to be left to the industry to conduct the relevant research. For
example, the AGIA indicated that:
It was industry that did the work for Radopholus similis.
What about all the other pests and diseases that have been put in the risk
matrix? What type of strain, biotype and so forth are they? If you do not know
that information and it is causing majority rot in Fiji wouldn't you want to
have that information about exactly what pests and diseases you have before you
start sending fruit to other countries? Would not you like to know those risks?
Stakeholders indicated that industry's concerns about the approach taken
by DA Biosecurity extended back to 2005. The committee was also told that the
current issues in relation to the ginger IRA are somewhat different from the
IRA on bananas from the Philippines as there was a lot more information
available for bananas. However, the AGA told the committee that, in relation to
the culture of DA Biosecurity, not much had changed:
I would like to say that things have changed since then, but
I cannot see much evidence of it. I note in your report in 2009 that you were
disappointed, as a committee, that you had not seen substantial change since
the 2005 inquiry. I presented to both of those inquiries and I just cannot see
much change in the culture of DAFF Biosecurity within that time.
At least in the banana one I think we had a lot more
technical information on which to do the risk analysis...
In 2007, officers from DA Biosecurity conducted a field trip to Fiji to
assess the biosecurity arrangements for ginger. The report prepared following
the trip was criticised by a number of submitters, including the Australia Ginger
Growers Association (AGGA):
The field report which we obtained showed a clear lack of
knowledge about growing and harvesting ginger in Fiji. Our research shows, poor
post-harvest practices including top up of consignments, a sincere lack of
knowledge about pests and diseases in Fiji, including their strains and
taxonomy... DAFF [Biosecurity] consistently claimed that their research into pest
and disease had been thorough, yet industry during the course of 2012 has
conducted trial experiments into Radopholus similis and proved that the
Australian burrowing nematode was a completely different strain than that found
Templeton Ginger also raised concerns about the robustness of the field
report and the extent to which it was relied upon for the ginger IRA:
The Field Trip Report which as stated in the Draft IRA,
provided the information that formed the basis for estimating unrestricted risk
in the Import Risk Analysis (page 15), was only 3-4 pages long (without tables
and pictures). If this forms the basis of a risk assessment, how can 3 to 4
pages of information be adequate to give proper Risk Assessment?
Need for further
Mr David Peasley informed the committee of his view on the field trip
report, and the additional information required:
The initial response is that there is not very rigorous
science at all identifying the pests or the distribution of those pests in
Fiji. I do not see how you can extrapolate from that poor information base to
do a risk analysis. You really have to have a lot of data and information on
which to estimate risks.
Interestingly, the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji also raised concerns
about a lack of valid scientific evidence, noting that:
...Fiji has no desire to compromise Australia's quarantine
integrity but there appears to be no valid scientific evidence provided to
date, to justify the provisional quarantine status of Radopholus similis.
Article 5 of the SPS Agreement also requires that DAFF
"...shall seek to obtain the additional information necessary for a more
objective assessment of risk and review the sanitary or phytosanitary measure
accordingly within a reasonable period of time."
The AGIA told the committee that it had additional concerns about a
range of pests, particularly in relation to the different pathogenicity which
could arise if there were different biotypes in Fiji. The AGIA also noted that
further work is required to ascertain whether fumigants are effective:
The AGIA sees that, before the IRA is finalised, further
research is also needed to compare the pathogenicity and host ranges of
Australian and Fijian isolates of Pythium
vexans and Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. zingiberi, and to
determine whether the bacterial wilt pathogen is present in Fiji.
Dr Graham Stirling also highlighted some of the gaps in the information
available for the Fijian burrowing nematode variant, and argued that further
work is needed to resolve the uncertainties:
We simply do not find this burrowing nematode in ginger
soils. We have bananas, sure, and in the Sunshine Coast hinterland there have
been bananas grown for 50, 60 or 70 years; I am not sure. The nematode is
there. Right next door we grow ginger, and it is fine. To me that says
immediately: 'What's going on? Why?' In Fiji they get problems; we do not. It
could be varieties. It could be soil types. There are a whole range of factors
that could be involved. But, if we do not have the nematode to do the work, we
cannot do that.
The AGIA told the committee that research is required to develop
effective mitigation measures, but there were questions surrounding how that
research could be conducted:
One must question whether mitigation measures require further
research before ginger is imported. How long, at what rate and at what
temperature will methyl bromide [be] used? Who will be required to conduct this
operation and what quality assurance will be used to regulate this system?
Obviously, much research is still required. With many
questions unanswered, the Australian ginger industry asks to stop the clock.
Cost of research
The costs associated with conducting appropriate research was also
raised by stakeholders. The AGGA argued that, 'as a relatively small group, the
ginger industry is not in a position to fund such research' and indicated that:
Asking industry to conduct further taxonomic research into
this area within 12 months is not a viable option. We have investigated a
research project that has been costed at $500,000 over three years and would
take industry 3 years to fund.
A similar view was expressed by Dr Mike Smith, who told the committee
The whole issue about the pathogenicity of the Fijian strain
and the Australian strain, I believe there is evidence that has been provided
to say that they are different. As I said, that will not change in a year's
time. There will still be evidence that is presented. But to do a full
taxonomic and pathogenic evaluation of these two Radopholus populations
will take time and money and the ginger industry does not have that money to
put to this sort of research.
The AGIA indicated that, in order to complete the ginger IRA, there is
clearly a need for more scientific information, and argued that 'this can be
achieved only with the financial support of the Australian or the Fijian
The committee considers that the availability of accurate, current data
on the prevalence of pests
and diseases in Fiji is a fundamental requirement of the risk analysis for
importing fresh ginger. The committee observes that such data is not always
available or forthcoming and that DA Biosecurity has proceeded to complete the ginger
IRA with the information that it has available.
consistently advocates that its processes are based on the use of rigorous
scientific data. However, the committee is concerned that assessments of
consequences, likelihoods and risks have been made where there is inadequate
acknowledges that the data that has been used may be scientifically robust,
however the assessments being made based on that data do not appear to be
scientifically sound. As
highlighted in Chapter 5, assessing the likelihood of the Fijian burrowing
nematode variant entering Australia without mitigation measures as 'moderate',
when it is an event that is almost certain to occur appears to defy logic and
does not appear to be scientifically robust. Similarly, as discussed in the
previous chapter, assessing the consequence to Australia as 'low' for the
Fijian burrowing nematode variant, when the consequences for a large number of
important crops are unknown, cannot possibly be credible from a scientific
DA Biosecurity's powers to gather information and commission research
In response to some of the concerns raised about the lack of accurate
information used in the conduct of the IRA, the committee examined DA
Biosecurity's capacity to gather information and commission further research.
The committee notes for example that while DAFF Biosecurity confirmed
that one farm in Fiji had suffered a 70 per cent crop loss due to burrowing
nematode, DA Biosecurity were not able to provide information on the extent of
losses across other farms in Fiji.
In describing DA Biosecurity's position, Dr Colin Grant quoted from
proceedings of the Federal Court, on appeal from a judge of the Federal Court
in Australia about the process associated with DA's assessment of risk:
The legislation does not suggest that quarantine decisions
are to be made on an assumption that every scientific fact is known about every
conceivable disease or pest that might be introduced into Australia, or that
such decision are to be delayed until all such facts are discovered and
accepted. On the contrary, quarantine decisions have to be made in the existing
state of knowledge. Imponderables have to be weighed and value judgements made.
No specific criteria are laid down, other than the condition to be established
must limit the level of quarantine risk to one which is 'acceptably low'—which
necessarily assumes there will be some risk.
This information would appear to suggest that DA Biosecurity may not be
legally required to seek further information or commission research to better
inform an IRA. However, it is also noted that the Chief Executive of the
Department of Agriculture has the power under paragraph 69G(2) of the Quarantine
Regulations 2000 to commission research,
or to seek substantial expert advice. While the Chief Executive may not be
legally compelled to use that power, the Chief Executive appears not to have
done so in the case of Fiji ginger to commission relevant research to resolve
the burrowing nematode subspecies issue, among and other issues.
As indicated previously in this report, Australia has obligations under
the World Trade Organisation Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). In particular for risk management
measures, the SPS Agreement requires that:
Members shall ensure that any sanitary or phytosanitary
measure is applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or
plant life or health, is based on scientific principles and is not maintained
without sufficient scientific evidence, except as provided for in paragraph 7
of Article 5.
The above requirement has a very important caveat expressed in paragraph
seven of article 5 of the SPS agreement, allowing countries to adopt sanitary
or phytosanitary measures in circumstances where relevant scientific evidence
In cases where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient,
a Member may provisionally adopt sanitary or phytosanitary measures on the
basis of available pertinent information, including that from the relevant
international organizations as well as from sanitary or phytosanitary measures
applied by other Members. In such circumstances, Members shall seek to obtain
the additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk
and review the sanitary or phytosanitary measure accordingly within a
reasonable period of time.
Australia's international obligations, as set out in the SPS agreement, do
not appear to inhibit DA Biosecurity using its powers to gather information and
commission research. Rather, the SPS agreement appears to encourage the seeking
of such information.
The committee questioned
DA Biosecurity about seeking further information or commissioning research to
acquire information to better inform the ginger IRA, including whether it would
conduct a 16-week controlled test to clarify whether the nematode subspecies
were different in Australia and Fiji. The committee notes the following
statement made by DA Biosecurity during the inquiry:
The role of the department is to undertake risk assessments
based on available information.
The issue is very simply that risk analysis is made on the
available information of the day. As that changes, changes are made to the
status of risk.
What we do is we take into account evidence that exists already.
The committee considers the preceding statements by DA Biosecurity may create
a misleading impression, given that Regulation 69 gives DA Biosecurity the
power to seek further information, commission research, 'stop the clock' while
awaiting the outcome of research, and even terminate an IRA if there is not
The committee observes that Australia's obligations under the SPS agreement
positively encourage the Department of Agriculture to use its information-gathering
powers, where there is insufficient scientific evidence available.
The committee further notes that DA Biosecurity is not legally obliged
to exercise its powers under Regulation 69. However, the committee considers
that DA Biosecurity should be more open and transparent in justifying why it chooses
not to use the powers, particularly when there are significant concerns being
raised by stakeholders about the lack of information informing IRAs.
The committee recommends that, before any fresh ginger is imported from
Fiji, the Department of Agriculture use its powers under Regulation 69 of the Quarantine
Regulations 2000 to resolve the scientific uncertainty surrounding the
burrowing nematode and other possible pathogens.
The committee recommends that the proposed merits review process for
IRAs also include decisions by the Department of Agriculture on the exercise of
information-gathering and other powers under Regulation 69 of the Quarantine
Consultation with industry during the IRA process
In addition to concerns about the information DA Biosecurity relied on
in the preparation of the ginger IRA, stakeholders also raised concerns about
what they described as an inadequate level of consultation. Submitters were critical
of delays in providing information to industry, a lack of transparency in
relation to processes and a lack of communication with industry.
The comments made by Mr David Peasley are similar to those made by a
number of industry stakeholders:
The lack of open dialogue has caused unnecessary friction and
mistrust of our national Biosecurity organisation. Australian industries need
transparency and confidence in the technical capacity of [DAFF Biosecurity] to
undertake a rigorous, sound scientific assessment.
providing information to industry
Peasley Horticultural Services submitted that, in its view, the industry
had been 'kept in the dark' for many years about the Fijian ginger import
request. The submission pointed specifically to the length of time between the
market access request being received by the Department of Agriculture and this
information being provided to the ginger industry:
DAFF [Biosecurity] received a submission requesting market
access for fresh ginger from Fijian Biosecurity Authorities in November 2003.
This submission included information on the pests associated with ginger crops
in Fiji and further information was provided on the ginger production system in
2004 and 2007, outlining the land preparation, pest management, harvesting and
post harvest handling.
It was not until August 2010, some 7 years later, that the
Australian Ginger Industry was first advised of this import application request
by Fiji for access to the Australian market.
Since August 2010 the Australian Ginger industry contributed
scientific information to DAFF [Biosecurity]. From the release of the Draft IRA
the industry only had 60 days to respond.
Report on DA Biosecurity's field
trip to Fiji
The committee was also told that the report on the DA Biosecurity field
trip to Fiji (dated September 2007) was not provided to the industry until three
weeks before the closing date for comments on the ginger IRA – in May 2012. Stakeholders
suggested that the report was only provided then because the matter was raised
at the Senate's Budget Estimates hearings.
Peasley Horticultural Services explained the consequences of the delayed
receipt of the trip report:
Despite the draft IRA stating (page 15) that the Trip Report
undertaken by DAFF Biosecurity Officers in September 2007 "forms the basis
for estimating unrestricted risk in this Import Risk Analysis", access to
the Trip Report when requested by the AGIA was denied. The report was finally
supplied on 25 May 2012, just 3 weeks before the deadline for submission of
responses to the draft IRA. This delay seriously restricted the time for the
AGIA technical group to respond effectively.
Mitigation measures added without
Stakeholders raised similar concerns about risk mitigation measures
being added to the provisional final IRA, without the industry being given an
opportunity to comment on their effectiveness.
Templeton Ginger asked:
How DAFF Biosecurity can place new risk mitigation measures
in the Provisional Final IRA for control of Burrowing Nematode and no-one has
the opportunity to comment on the science of these risk mitigation measures? To
me this seems unjust and shows this process needs change.
Similarly, the AGIA suggested that the process needs to be reviewed and
When we got the provisional IRA, it really needs another
process where it can come back to industry to talk about mitigation measures,
because to this point, since that, communication from industry had broken down.
The committee acknowledges that DA Biosecurity interacts with many
stakeholders on many different issues. However, the committee considers that
the evidence provided demonstrates a need for significant improvement in the
openness and transparency with which DA Biosecurity interacts with Australian
The committee is concerned that adequate time for the conduct of
research and for industry to respond has not been allowed. In particular, the
committee is concerned about apparent instances of the ginger industry receiving
information vital to its participation in the IRA process, through sources
other than the Department. For example, as a result of questioning at Senate
estimates and inquiry hearings; or informally through related industry groups.
Relevant industry stakeholders and/or peak bodies should receive such
information directly, without delay and with sufficient time to respond to IRA
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture provide
industry stakeholders and/or peak bodies with information relevant to IRA processes
directly and without delay (and with sufficient time to respond to IRA
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