Growers face up to fenthion fears

Rebecca TriggerCountryman

Stonefruit growers say the industry is facing millions of dollars in losses this season as a ban on a widely-used but controversial insecticide comes into force.

A Federal government ban on fenthion, which has been used for more than 50 years to control Mediterranean fruit fly, was implemented this month, just weeks before the stonefruit harvest gets underway in the Perth Hills.

The insecticide can no longer be used on apricots and peaches after an Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority analysis raised concerns it could be detrimental to human health.

It was completely banned on October 16 for use on those fruits, but following a backlash from growers, the APVMA on Tuesday issued an interim permit for one application per crop - a move orchardists say will be of minimal use.

The man behind the Fruit Fly Action Group - Brett DelSimone - said the restriction would devastate an already struggling industry and ultimately kill off homegrown peach and apricot production.

"In real terms, the crop losses could be between 50 to 100 per cent, especially later in the season when the fruit fly population is very high," Mr DelSimone said.

"The problem is when it's festering in the apricots and peaches, they get into your other crops as well so you're looking at whole-of-property contamination."

Growers were restricted to two sprays of fenthion on apricots and peaches last season and some had losses of 50 per cent of their crop, Mr DelSimone said.

Other protections available to producers were either more dangerous, unproven in Australian conditions or ineffective, he said. Mr DelSimone called on Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to overturn the ban. A spokeswoman for Mr Joyce said the APVMA was a statutory authority and, as such, the minister had no legislative powers to influence its decisions.

APVMA spokeswoman Virginia Stanhope said fenthion interfered with the human nervous system at toxic levels. The 2012 Fenthion Residues and Dietary Risk Assessment Report found if it was used according to the instructions on the label, it could still exceed the recommended public health standard on certain crops, she said.

"New lower safety standards mean that even with restricted use, and based on the data provided by industry, peaches and apricots still exceeded what is considered a safe level for eating," Ms Stanhope said.

"Safety standards are set well below toxic levels to protect both the community and the industry and are designed to provide a protective buffer to ensure consumers will not actually be exposed to high levels of residues in food."

Third generation Roleystone orchardist Peter Casotti has decided to sell up after last year's season.

"It's just not viable," Mr Casotti said. "If you were to lose 10 per cent of your crop to fruit fly or more, it makes it even less viable."

A Department of Agriculture and Food spokeswoman said the new restrictions would create a "significant challenge" for fruit growers in controlling fruit fly, particularly those with small mixed orchards in the Hills area.

The WA peach industry was worth about $8.6 million over the 2011-12 financial year, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

There were 144 businesses producing about two million kilograms of peaches in the State.

_Mediterranean fruit fly _ *

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA recommends growers and people with backyard fruit trees:

· Destroy any infested fruit and not let any rot on the ground.

· Remove unwanted and unmanaged fruit trees.

· Undertake weekly foliage baiting (once fruit has formed on trees).

· Install liquid traps and/or use exclusion netting.

Residents in the shires of Swan, Mundaring, Kalamunda, Gosnells, Armadale and Serpentine/Jarrahdale are in a gazetted fruit fly control area, which means they are obligated to control Mediterranean fruit fly, or Medfly.

This includes co-ordinated baiting, trapping, orchard hygiene and the use of permitted sprays.

More information at agric.wa.gov.au or from the department's Pest and Disease Information Service on 1800 084 881.

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