Growers fear ruin

Claire TyrrellCountryman
The West logo

Fruit growers are mounting an eleventh hour campaign against a proposed ban by the nation's chemical watchdog of the fruit fly chemical fenthion.

They fear if the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) restricts the product's use, they will have to plough their trees in because the fruit will be unsalable after being attacked by fruit fly.

Roleystone growers Tim and Wilma Byl said if the ban was imposed they might as well "shut the gate" on the orchard the family had been on for 40 years.

The issue first flared in September when an APVMA report determined young children eating certain fruit and vegetables sprayed with fenthion might be exposed to "residues higher than the public health standard".

The regulator proposed a ban of the product on all edible-skin fruits pre-harvest.

Crisis meetings have been held in the Perth Hills in a bid to change the regulator's course of action.

For the past 50 years, WA growers have used fenthion to control Mediterranean fruit fly and in the eastern states growers have used it to combat Queensland fruit fly.

Despite the industry's long history with the product, Hills Orchard Improvement Group (HOIG) spokesman Brett Delsimone said the APVMA failed to understand how WA growers used the chemical.

"We only spray it twice in the growing season and residues are virtually undetectable," he said.

"They are issuing a ban on what's on the label, not what's actually used.

"We have made a submission to the APVMA on that basis and we are hoping they might give us a permit to do that."

HOIG is made up of 70 growers from 8000 hectares of orchards from Perth to Jarrahdale.

They produce $40 million worth of fruit a year.

Mr Delsimone said the group's entire production would be under threat from a ban but it's not just WA growers who are worried.

At a meeting in Pickering Brook on Monday, New South Wales peach and nectarine grower Ray Hick said he would have to bulldoze his entire orchard if the ban was in place.

Based at Bangalow in northern NSW, Mr Hick said without fenthion growers in Queensland and northern NSW would not be able to send their fruit to their main markets in Victoria and South Australia.

He said to send fruit to those States, growers needed to apply at least five applications of fenthion to effectively control the pest.

Mr Hick wants the APVMA to allow more time for a viable alternative to be found.

Although there are alternatives proposed for fenthion, growers say the chemical is the only one that controls fruit fly at each stage of the cycle.

"There are other chemicals that can be used, including trichlorfon and malathion, but they only kill fruit fly at an adult stage," Mr Delsimone said.

The Department of Agriculture and Food is also working on alternatives and in conjunction with growers has trialled several area-wide management techniques, such as trapping, baiting and orchard hygiene.

Growers say while these methods help reduce their reliance on fenthion, a viable alternative is to be found.

"The industry wants to phase out the use of chemicals as much as possible but it takes time to set up area-wide management of fruit fly," Mr Delsimone said.

An APVMA spokesman said the industry body was considering a permit system for fenthion use, which was proposed in the HOIG's submission.

He said if permits were issued for fenthion use, they would only be available for commercial growers and not home gardeners.

WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has lobbied Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, asking for more time to use the chemical and for a more thorough risk assessment.

Federal member for Canning Don Randall, member for Darling Range Tony Simpson and WA Liberal Senator Chris Back have shown support for WA growers on the proposed ban.

The regulator is expected to hand down its decision on Wednesday.


More reports, page 7

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