Chinese apple threat

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Bob GarnantCountryman

Despite the threat of disease devastating orchards and pushing local growers out of business, the Federal Government has given the green light to apple imports from China.

Chinese fruit is already on supermarket shelves in the eastern states, with the product expected to arrive in WA within weeks, after Biosecurity Australia said the imported produce posed no threat.

Australia has not imported Chinese apples since the 1920s, and industry is worried the fruit will not have country-of-origin labelling.

“I was expecting to see a country-of-origin sticker, but only found the brand name ‘Great Wall’ on the imported apples, ” Apple and Pear Australia (APAL) chairman Darral Ashton said.

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“Our main concerns are that Australia remains free of pest and diseases and consumers are able to make informed buying decisions based on country-of-origin labelling.”

APAL board member and organic grower Jason Jarvis, who farms in Donnybrook, said fears of infestation by exotic pests indigenous to China and South East Asia had local growers deeply concerned.

Manjimup grower Alex Alban said fruit from Asia had Codling Moth and Apple Scab — to name but a few diseases — which could cause havoc in orchards.

“We will never be able to compete with China on labour costs, but I feel Australian consumers will continue to support locally grown apples, ” Mr Alban said.

Mr Alban decided three years ago to grow a new club variety, Jazz, and expects to harvest his first batch in April.

Developed in New Zealand, the Jazz is a cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn varieties.

“They are very hardy and have long shelf life, ” Mr Alban said.

“I am hoping that my investment in the Jazz variety is a safe hedge against Chinese imports and will offer better eating quality.”

WA Labor agriculture spokesman Mick Murray joined the chorus of opposition, and called on consumers to boycott Chinese apples.

“The importation of apples from China has understandably upset the local industry, ” Mr Murray said.

“Australia is known for its clean, green farming practises and I am calling on WA shoppers to continue to support the local industry.”

Mr Murray said he was pleased to hear that Coles and Woolworths had committed to supporting the Australian apple industry by refusing to stock the imported fruit.

In 2008–09, the WA apple and pear industry had a farmgate value of $57 million, with the State producing about 32,000 tonnes of apples during this period.

Horticultural adviser Marcel Veens, who has travelled the world analysing produce markets, said after Holland allowed imports of Chinese apples, local production had shrunk by 60 per cent over two decades.

“The Chinese apples are here to stay, ” Mr Veens said.

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