Saturday, 18 April 2009

Qantas caves in to lobby, bans Philippine bananas

Manila Standard

AUSTRALIAN national carrier Qantas Airways has announced it will stop serving Philippine-grown bananas on its international flights, Australian media reported yesterday.

The airline announced the decision after banana growers from the states of Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales complained that Qantas should serve locally grown bananas or other fruits to its passengers.

“Qantas is quintessentially Australian and they spend millions of dollars associating themselves with everything that is part of our nation’s character. Many travelers choose to fly Qantas because they are Australian owned,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted legislator Luke Hartsuyker as saying.

The airline buys over 1.8-million bananas each year from growers in Queensland and Western Australia, and Hartsuyker wanted to promote those grown from the New South Wales north coast.

Qantas said the all domestic and international flights coming out of Australia carried Australian bananas, but the Philippine-grown bananas were loaded on board by their New Zealand caterer in Auckland because it was not viable to fly Australian fruit overseas for the return flight.

Besides, Qantas said, there were no quarantine issues with overseas bananas although the airline had asked its caterers to find alternative fruit options in New Zealand.

But banana growers continued to dispute the quarantine policy that the Australian federal government used to allow the entry of Philippine-grown Cavendish bananas, opening up a market that Filipino growers have sought to enter since 1995.

The federal agency Biosecurity Australia made the policy based on a 600-page report released last Nov. 12, which identified 21 pests and diseases in the Philippines that should concern Australia. But the report concluded the risks could be reduced to acceptable levels by risk-management measures.

The agency said Australia and the Philippines would develop a detailed operational plan that will need to be approved by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service before any import permits for bananas from the Philippines into Australia will be considered.

But Australian banana growers insisted that the Australian quarantine service had problems monitoring compliance with quarantine conditions for a range of pests and diseases.

“Given the risk of Filipino bananas to Australia’s industry, I cannot believe they are permitted to be used on any international flight which is bound for Australia,” Hartsuyker said.

Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga Banana Growers Association president Ron Gray said the bananas should not be allowed on the flights as there was no quarantine on bananas going into New Zealand.

“There is plenty of other fruit they can provide, rather than Ecuadorian and Filipino bananas,” Gray said, adding that he received information that the Philippine government was trying to blackmail Australia into relaxing the restrictions.

West Korora grower and Australian Banana Growers Council president Nicky Singh also criticized the airline and said even if there were quarantine rules, Philippine bananas still represented a risk to local growers.

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