Fenthion win for WA orchardists

Kate PollardCountryman

WA stone fruit growers have won a David and Goliath battle days before this season's crops faced destruction from Mediterranean fruit fly.

Orchardists were advised last week of a 12-month extension to use the pesticide fenthion to protect crops from fruit fly infestation.

It followed an eleventh hour campaign against a proposed ban by the nation's chemical watchdog, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) figures show fruit fly costs the WA horticultural industry about $20 million each year in lost product, market access and control costs.

A report released in September found the use of fenthion on many crops could exceed the recommended public health standard.

But after crisis talks and political lobbying, APVMA issued new label instructions allowing WA commercial fruit growers to use fenthion during the growing season.

The pesticide can be used on apples, pears, citrus, grapes, pawpaw, persimmons, stone fruit and tropical and sub-tropical fruits with an inedible peel.

While orchardists can spray fenthion on many crops twice a season, this is not universally the case. For example, citrus can only be sprayed once.

Home gardeners are prohibited from using the pesticide on all fruit and vegetables and there are restrictions in all other States.

Hills Orchard Improvement Group spokesman Brett Delsimone said 70 growers in the Perth Hills had won the reprieve for the entire WA fruit industry.

"No one across the country was prepared to take the fight up to the regulator, the APVMA, so we had to do it ourselves," he said.

The group presented evidence from quality assurance testing showing residue levels were within new regulatory limits. It will seek industry funding to undertake further tests to confirm orchard practice meets government standards.

But Mr Delsimone said growers were disappointed that DAFWA and FruitWest had failed to defend the industry. Instead, they issued a brochure on how to fight fruit fly without fenthion the same day as the APVMA decision was announced.

Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has welcomed the extension and said it will allow industry to work with DAFWA to refine alternative methods of controlling fruit fly.

The shires of Swan, Mundaring, Kalamunda, Gosnells, Armadale and Serpentine/Jarrahdale are in the process of being declared as infested with fruit fly, which will increase the obligation to dispose of fallen fruit. DAFWA inspectors will ensure compliance, with a strong focus on commercial fruit growing.

The department has also been educating the public that control of the pest is the responsibility of all property owners.

The APVMA received more than 70 submissions over the proposed suspension.

The new instructions for fenthion use are on the permit documents, which can be downloaded from the APVMA website www.apvma.gov.au.

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