Election pledge to reinstate fenthion

Kate PollardCountryman

A Coalition government has vowed to do everything it can to make sure an insecticide used to prevent fruit fly infestation continues to be available to orchardists.

Federal Coalition spokesman for agriculture John Cobb and Liberal MP Don Randall met Perth Hills fruit growers on Monday to discuss the current status of fenthion and announce the Coalition's approach if elected.

In September last year, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority announced the suspension of fenthion on fruit crops, but backlash from WA orchardists resulted in a 12-month extension, which expires next month.

In the interim, there has been widespread uncertainty among orchardists, with crop losses of up to 50 per cent reported under the new APVMA instructions, in which two sprays of fenthion are allowed.

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Some growers have left the industry, while others have pulled out trees or replaced stonefruit with avocadoes that are not as susceptible to fruit fly.

Mr Cobb told growers the issue needed to be corrected.

"Fenthion is not banned anywhere in the world and we consider the restriction was a serious overreaction," he said.

The Coalition has also vowed to remove a seven year re-registration process for agriculture and veterinary chemicals introduced earlier this year.

By removing the re-registration process, Mr Cobb said it would allow a quick means of trade, create more flexibility and lower the cost of business.

Hills Orchard Improvement Group spokesman Brett DelSimone said the news was a positive sign the Coalition understood the predicament of the industry.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics valued fruit production in WA in 2011-12 at $317 million.

During the meeting, the HOIG showed Mr Cobb the results of its own report into fenthion that showed residue levels of the insecticide were well below APVMA requirements.

Mr DelSimone said they also discussed a new technology RIDL where male fruit flies with a lethal gene were released and passed on the lethal gene when they mated with wild female fruit flies.

Developed by English biotech company Oxitec, it will first require national and political support.

"There are two positives here," he said.

"The lethal gene is target specific, so there is no cross over into other species, and it produces no toxins to the host, so predatory animals are not affected by eating the altered fruit fly."

Next month, Mr DelSimone will meet with South Australian growers to talk about WA's issues and seek a national push for the technology to be funded, tested and implemented in Australia.

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