About Bellingen Seedsavers

We are a group of like-minded growers of edible and useful heritage plant varieties in the Bellingen area of northeast New South Wales, Australia.

Our climate varies from frost-free coastal areas to inland river valleys and highlands with frosts. Bellingen has an average annual rainfall of 1507ml.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Changes by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service threaten Australian food security.

Action required before Thursday April 19.


Changes by AQIS threaten Australian food security. 


Yes, this is serious:


What you can do about this


1 - Make a formal submission to AQIS. This is the most important action to take (sample letter at the bottom of this newsletter).

2 - Sign the petition

3 - Tell another gardener about it this. Spread the word. In person, email, social media. Talk about it. Raise awareness. Let people know so more people can take action.

A letter from one of our members - use parts of this to write your AQIS submission.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing to express my concerns about how the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has failed to adequately consult with community stakeholders in its important Vegetable Seeds Policy Review. Its methodology lacks transparency, due democratic process, and consultation with consumers and grassroots interest groups.
The first stage of the Vegetable Seeds Policy Review (Apiaceae family) was conducted with little input from the general Australian public. The draft was released on 12 September 20117 via departmental website and emailed to a closed list of people who had pre-registered to receive updates. It remained open for a 60 day “public consultation” period before being closed for commentary on 13 November 2017.
It should not surprise you to hear that regular members of the public are not in the habit of cruising your department’s website for boffin documents. It can only be presumed that consultation was intentionally avoided.
The second stage of the Vegetable Seeds Policy Review (Curcurbitaceous family) was conducted in the same vain. Its’ draft was released on 6 December 20117 and closed on 19 February 2018.
The Brassicaceous family review is scheduled to close for commentary on 19 April 2018, and the Solanaceae family schedule remains ‘To Be Advised’.
Keen gardeners, such as myself, were dismayed to hear about this project through the grapevine of seed savers, organic gardeners, and small family-owned seed suppliers. We are concerned about the potential impacts on our activities and livelihoods.
I could not locate copies of the draft documents for past Apiaceae or Curcurbitaceous reviews on your departmental website. These documents are not displayed clearly for public reference. It is rumoured that the following changes will be implemented:
  • The cucurbit seed supply in Australia (pumpkins, squash, watermelon, rockmelon, zucchini, cucumber) will require increased mandatory testing. The costs of this will not be borne by the government but will be passed onto seed supply companies and consumers.
  • The Department of Agriculture requires additional systemic fungicide treatment on all rockmelon and honeydew seed. But has failed to specify to the Australian Organic Seed industry bodies which organic fungal treatments, if any, will be considered adequate.
  • An anti-competitive marketplace is being promoted where heirloom, non-hybrid (F1) and organic seed providers are placed at even further disadvantage compared to multinational behemoths and large retailers.
  • Farmers Rights and Consumer Choices are being eroded. The diversity of seeds available to consumers will be greatly diminished. This curtailment is driven by cost cutting. It is cheaper to sacrifice consumer options than to staff on-shore quarantine services to test for the actual presence of disease at point of entry.
The Vegetable Seed Review needs to be redesigned and timeframes reconsidered. A public awareness campaign should be rolled out so that people who will be impacted by are able to engage and provide submissions.
As a minimum all aspects of the review should be re-opened for commentary and following types of associations should be notified: Organic Certification providers; market garden organisations; heirloom seed retailers; Garden Clubs of Australia; Seeds Saver Networks, and national gardening magazines.
The terms of reference of the review should be expanded to reflect the following objectives for Australian agriculture:
  1. Defend Farmers Rights and Food Sovereignty
Australia has seen an increase in the number of grassroots food movements in recent year such as school gardens, community gardens, farmer’s markets, cooperatives and home producers. This upsurge has occurred for many reasons including the desire:
  • To avoid unnecessary or artificial chemicals,
  • To reduce environmental impacts of food miles, packaging or water use;
  • To re-localise community relationships;
  • For increased ethnic and cultural diversity and associated food trends; and
  • To pursue healthy lifestyles and leisure activities.
Departmental policy should demonstrate how it safeguards the rights of Australian citizens to grow their own food and control their food preferences wherever possible. For many home food producers this means having access to a wide variety of heirloom, non-hybrid and non-GMO seeds.
These changes have favourable outcomes for Australian society. However, it increases the need for the Department to consult widely with producers and consumers. Grassroots stakeholders should be notified and encouraged to participate at a national level in making decisions related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
  1. Respect consumer choices.
Department of Agriculture policies should reflect the wide spectrum of consumer preferences including organic seed providers and farming practices. Policies should demonstrably attempt to incorporate consumer preferences into its regimes.
Any changes to mandatory requirements should not unduly reduce the range options available to consumers including open pollinated organic seed supply. If there is a requirement, the department should clearly demonstrate why this is required and withdraw restrictions as soon as the risk subsides.
  1. Encourage small-to-medium Australian businesses.
Many seed importers are small-to-medium Australia owned businesses. The Department should assist them to easily maintain accreditations. If a policy recommendation is concluded, the Department should detail clear and appropriate courses of action for conventional or organic importers.
The Vegetable Seed Policy Review proposes a requirement for mandatory broad-spectrum systemic fungicidal treatment for seeds of Brassica oleracea, Brassica rapa, Eruca vesicaria and Raphanus sativus. Therefore, the review should also specify what it would consider to be acceptable organic fungicidal treatment alternatives for each category of vegetable seed.
Australian owned seed companies already face significant barriers to entry and operation in the marketplace. Forcing Australian businesses to absorb expenses for additional testing or quarantine services would be anti-competitive. In most cases, it should not be incumbent on the importer to provide the department with technical or trial data submissions.
  1. Adequately fund Australia’s biosecurity environment
In the CSIRO report on Australia’s Biosecurity Future (2014), Dr Fisk identified that “an investment in biosecurity is just that an investment, and not a cost.” I wholeheartedly concur with this statement and oppose sub-optimal approaches to risk management such as:
  • quarantine cost cutting;
  • undue curtailment of consumer choice;
  • pushing national costs onto Australian businesses; or
  • short-sighted overreliance on overseas Certification Agencies.
Failure to invest in nationally coordinated quarantine services is a high-risk venture! Australia must enhance its onshore quarantine service facilities. Inspecting seed and testing seedlings for viruses and other diseases is proven technology. Cost cutting and job losses in Quarantine must be reversed if we are to protect Australia’s biosecurity, our diverse agricultural industries, and our food sovereignty.
Thank you for your time.

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