Stop the de-regulation of blueberry rust in Tasmania

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First of all, thank you for taking the time to follow the link and inform yourself further of the current situation of blueberry rust in Tasmania.

My parents run a Certified Organic blueberry farm at Turners Marsh. We are becoming very concerned with recent developments regarding the control of Blueberry Rust in the state. Blueberry Rust was discovered on a property at Sulphur Creek owned by the large public company, Costas in August 2016. Since then the communication between Biosecurity and local blueberry growers has been sporadic and convoluted. 

Late on the 29th May 2017 Biosecurity Tasmania updated their website disclosing for the first time that two additional properties (in close proximity to Costas Sulphur Creek operations) had been detected with Blueberry Rust - detected in March 2017.

The update also stated that:-

"As the disease is now considered established in Tasmania , Blueberry Rust will be de-regulated as a disease exotic to Tasmania in coming months. The industry will be informed of any changed conditions of trade".

This immediately raised several questions.

1. Why the delay in informing the industry that rust had been detected on two more properties?
2. Who made the decision that Blueberry Rust was going to be de-regulated? (Blueberry Rust is a fungi and is classified under Tasmania's Plant Quarantine Act 1997 as a List A disease.)
3. Was industry consulted?
4. Was any consideration given to what this decision might mean for Certified Organic growers?

If Blueberry Rust were to be de-regulated it would mean the end of the export market for Certified Organic blueberries to both Victoria and South Australia, as these states are free of Rust and they would demand that all fruit entering their jurisdictions be chemically treated. This would render any fruit thus treated "not organic".

This would have a major impact on every organic grower as these are our two best markets. Furthermore it would also have a very costly effect on all conventional growers as they would have to introduce a regime of chemical treatment to be able to access the Vic and SA markets too. 

The only people to benefit from de-regulating Blueberry Rust would be the properties - three - currently infected with rust. The biggest of these by a factor of 1000s is Costas. Making us wonder, have Costas had any influence over the decision to consider de-regulating Blueberry Rust as an exotic disease?

We note that less than twenty four hours after publishing the updates mentioned above the website was changed to read:-

"The focus of the management approach is now reducing the risk of further movement of the disease, and work with local industry to meet requirements to enable interstate market access."

They feel they are in limbo. They have tried contacting Biosecurity Tasmania - to date they have not received any calls back.

Blueberry rust has been eradicated in Tasmania before and if both farmers and Biosecurity are diligent and move quickly, we can do it again.

I would also like to point out that if the decision to move forward with deregulating blueberry rust has in any way been influenced by a large commercial business such as Costas, it sets a very dangerous precedent for all agricultural and industry affected by Biosecurity matters.

Please take the time to sign this petition and help keep Tasmania free of blueberry rust.



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