International experts will join industry leaders in talks to save Australia's banana industry from deadly disease

An infected banana plantation. Photo: Scot Nelson.

The Australian agricultural industry has sought the advice of international fruit disease experts, after a second banana plantation has contracted the deadly TR4 Panama disease.

Professor Altus Viljoen of South Africa and Dr Chih-Ping Chao, Director of the Taiwan Banana Research Institute, will join Australian industry leaders at the Banana Industry Congress in Melbourne in June to discuss preventative measures.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said his office is working closely with the Queensland Government to ensure the emergency response effort is effective and provides full support.

“Australian biosecurity is based on the best available science and it will be critical that our response to this threat is informed by the best international research,” Joyce said.

“Professor Viljoen and Dr Chao will provide the Australian industry with critical information to inform our national response to this issue and forge strong international networks with local industries into the future.

Senator for Queensland, Barry O’Sullivan said the men were among the best biosecurity experts in the world and that they will “make an enormous contribution as our response to this disease is executed”.

To date, the Australian Government has delivered $210,000 to fund a range of biosecurity measures for the emergency response effort.

The disease has already wiped out two plantations in north Queensland and is at risk of spreading further into Queensland’s $600 million banana industry, which provides some of Australia’s largest supermarkets with as much as 85% of their banana supply.

Last week the peak industry body called for immediate government assistance when a second detection of the disease was made in the Atherton Tablelands, one of North Queensland’s major banana growing regions.

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council wants the government to introduce a protocol, approved by Biosecurity Queensland, that sets out “minimum biosecurity standards” for infected farms to follow, and government funding for infected farms to help them pay for destroying the infected plants and fencing infected farms.

The need for immediate assistance follows the history of TR4 in Australia. In the 1990s the same strain destroyed the Northern Territory’s entire banana industry. Read more about that here.

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