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Seed biosecurity review

The Department of Agriculture has been conducting a review of import conditions for brassicaceous crop seed for sowing (review webpage).

Most vegetable seeds are currently imported under our standard import conditions for seeds for sowing. Recent changes to the risk profile of brassicaceous crop seed have prompted the Department to review the existing import conditions to ensure they adequately address biosecurity risks.

Further reviews of other vegetable seeds will be undertaken by the Department.

Organic industry representations

Following concerns raised by organic operators, Organic Industries of Australia and organic operators met with the Department on 11 April 2018 to discuss alternative risk management options that are commercially viable and do not compromise Australia’s biosecurity.

As a result of the meeting, the Department agreed to consider alternative equivalent options that do not involve chemical treatment or that use substances permitted by the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce. These alternative options include, but are not limited to, testing of seed to demonstrate absence of the pathogens of quarantine concern, and use of hot water treatment. Other options proposed by the organic industry will also be considered by the department if the efficacy of the measure can be demonstrated.

For further information on the meeting please read the Department's communiqué.

Submission

To avoid the likely decimation of the Australian organic vegetable sector, the industry requested that the proposed additional phytosanitary measures allow a generous sunset clause for the continued importation of seed, and the use of equivalent alternative treatments to broad spectrum fungicides.

The industry encouraged the department to undertake research into alternative seed treatments that may be accepted under the National Standard before any change is made to the importation conditions.

The industry also urged the Government to undertake a regulatory impact assessment of the costs and economic implications for the organic industry of adopting the proposals. This didn't occur.

If the proposed additional phytosanitary measures are adopted, the industry considers that there should be greater effort placed on the fostering of an Australian organic seed industry, for reasons of biosecurity, self reliance and enhancing exports of both organic crops and organic seeds. We suggest that the Department cooperate with the organic industry to take advantage of the opportunities for the production of organic seed in Australia, including taking into account the strategies employed in other countries, the existing seed production base, the documented organic seed shortage held in certifiers’ records, and the local producer knowledge that is already here and willing to be shared.

Download the industry's full submission here.

Consultations

Organic Industries of Australia established a technical committee, which worked through these issues with the Department.

One additional line of argument that the industry made during consultations was that, while the inclusion of heat treatments might be technically feasible from a biodiversity risk management perspective, they may not be economic or practical for the organic industry. This issue will now need to be worked through by commercial operators as the Department implements the new regulations.

Final report

The Department accepted the representations of the industry and modified their position to incorporate additional treatment methods that would be acceptable for organic certifications. The risk management measures to be adopted are:

  1. Seeds of Brassica rapa (e.g. turnips and bok choy), Raphanus sativus (e.g. radish) and Eruca vesicaria (e.g. rocket) are hosts to fungal pathogens that are of biosecurity concern to Australia. Therefore, these seed species will require additional measures to manage these biosecurity risks:
    • Brassica rapa seed is a host of Colletotrichum higginsianum. The risk management options available to you to manage the risk posed by this pathogen, are:
      • Broad spectrum fungicide treatment, or
      • Heat treatment (e.g. dry heat or hot water)
    • Raphanus sativus seed is a host of Colletotrichum higginsianum and Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. raphani. The risk management options available to you to manage the risk posed by these pathogens, are:
      • Broad spectrum fungicide treatment, or
      • Heat treatment and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing (you will need to use both heat treatment and PCR testing because heat treatment is used to manage Colletotrichum higginsianum and PCR testing is used to manage Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. raphani)
    • Eruca vesicaria seed is a host of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. raphani. The risk management options available to you to manage the risk posed by this pathogen, are:
      • Broad spectrum fungicide treatment, or
      • PCR testing
  2. If the required treatment or testing is undertaken off-shore, phytosanitary certification is required with the additional declaration that the testing or treatment has been conducted in accordance with Australia’s requirements.
  3. Seeds of Brassica rapa, Raphanus sativus and Eruca vesicaria that are imported for producing sprouts or microgreens do not require the additional management measures if the seeds are germinated in an Approved Arrangement facility to ensure that the seeds are not directed for other uses.
  4. Seeds of all other brassicaceous vegetable species can continue to be imported under the department’s standard import conditions for seeds for sowing. These species were not found to be hosts of pathogens that are of biosecurity concern for Australia.

Read the final report Seed review final report

Further information

For further information contact Secretary@organicindustries.com.au or 0448 439 334