Although California table grapes have been given the green light to be shipped into Western Australia, some grape growers in that state remain opposed, fearing the imports could carry a devastating grape disease.
Graham Morgan, owner of Bullfrog International, imported the first load of California grapes and said there was nothing to fear because all imports had to meet strict phytosanitary requirements, according to an article in the July 29 issue of The West Australian newspaper.
In fact, the Canning Vale, Western Australia-based importer accused local grape growers of scaremongering about the risk from phomopsis cane and leaf spot, a fungal disease.
“This is good for retailers and consumers at a quiet time of the year for the fruit and vegetable industry,” Morgan said in the article. “Our argument as wholesalers is that it encourages people to eat grapes so that when local grapes are in season, they will eat more.”
His comments come slightly more than a week after the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry decided to allow California table grape imports into Western Australia, providing they meet the same quarantine pest requirements set by the country’s other states and territories.
Those regions began receiving California table grape imports in 2002, but Western Australian state legislation banned the importation of any out-of-state grapes, said Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.
Morgan’s load also marks the first time that any entity outside of Western Australia has been able to ship table grapes into the state, she said.
“It’s pretty big news,” Nave said, adding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture played a huge role in gaining access.
During the 2012-13 season, Australia imported about 1.6 million 19-pound boxes of California table grapes, according to commission figures.
Western Australia has a population of 2.1 million to 2.2 million people, most of those living in Perth, she said.
“It’s kind of one big major market, but it’s a big deal to have the rest of the (Australian) market open,” Nave said. “There will be no counter-seasonable grapes that are in there other than ours, and Australians love grapes.”
California exporters will continue to ship grapes into Western Australia until November or December, when local production begins to hit the market, she said.
In making its decision, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry first conducted a joint risk assessment with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food about whether table grape imports could harbor phomopsis and grapevine fanleaf virus, another grape disease of concern. Both are harmless to humans and other animals.
They found that the risks associated with phomopsis and fanleaf virus were negligible and very low, respectively, according to the national department’s July 18 announcement of non-regulatory status.
Both levels met the country’s appropriate level of protection, so no further biosecurity measures were required of the imports.
Doug Gubler, a University of California-Davis, plant pathologist professor, agreed and said the chances of table grapes carrying phomopsis is “very, very minimal.”
“I’ve only seen fruit infected at the station when I caused it, and we’ve never seen fruit or rachis infected in California as far as I know,” he said, adding the disease causes leaf spots and lesions on spurs and canes.