THE FEDERAL Government has backed down on a previous position where it planned to implement the compulsory treatment of imported brassica seeds with fungicide to reduce the risk of exotic seed-borne diseases arriving here following discussions with industry.
The news has been welcomed, not only by the organic sector, which has lobbied hard on the issue, but by canola disease experts, who say untreated seed is critical to conducting disease research.
Steve Marcroft, Marcroft Grain Pathology, said earlier work in canola breeding in Australia involved small scale production in Chile.
“It is vital we can get the seed untreated so we can test it to see how it performs against fungal disease,” Dr Marcroft said.
He said stringent regulations would be required to protect Australia’s canola industry.
“There is the risk of bringing in new diseases and we need to be vigilant against this threat, diseases can spread from one brassica species to another in many cases.”
Australian Organic, the nation’s peak organic body, is pleased with the news.
It had argued that requiring a fungicide treatment would void the organic status of any new varieties of brassicas coming into Australia.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is now proposing a standard where fungicide treatment is required for some seeds, which it says is a suitable and effective option for the majority of Australian growers.
If this measure is implemented, it will only apply to imports of crop seeds that can be affected by specific pathogens.
All other crop seed species will be able to continue being imported under current requirements.
A government spokesperson said a workable arrangement had been formed so Australian organic producers could access international genetic material.
Methods allowable may include subjecting the seed to a hot water treatment, sourcing seed from certified disease-free areas and testing of seed for disease pathogens.
“We’re delighted the department has indicated that alternative means of protecting our industry from seed-borne pathogens will likely be accepted,” said Sue Willis, incoming general manager of Australian Organics.
“We always supported the government’s moves to enhance biosecurity measures, however we were concerned that the industry had not yet been given enough opportunity to suggest alternative solutions.”
“As an industry we need to be able to safeguard the integrity of our organic certification, to remain competitive in the global organics marketplace.”
Along with canola, the brassica family also includes many popular leafy vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and kale.