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Australia: "Imported flowers are now at the center of a major biosecurity feud"

Over the last decade imported flowers more than tripled and nowadays, probably more than half of the flowers sold in Australia are grown overseas. These fresh cut flowers are now at the center of a major biosecurity feud, reports ABC. Between Ecuador, Kenya and Colombia, 85 to 90 percent of the world's roses come out of these three countries. In terms of Australia, the number may be as high as 80 to 90 percent Craig Musson says in the video broadcast.

The roses of several Ecuadorian farms, like Royal Flowers and Natuflor are being presented in the video, are being used as example by Musson to show and explain the origin of the large head of the roses, a characteristic that is beloved among the Australian consumer and can only be created at an altitude of in excess of 2600 meters above sea level.

Importing roses complements the other side of Mussons business, which is breeding, growing and exporting native flower. From the four farms, he exports about 5-6 months a year. So to have business year round, he needs to import flowers as well. 

And imported flowers are in high demand and Floral Designer John Emmanuel Grima explains that many flowers are used in weddings and that the wedding trends overseas are determining a lot of what he is doing in Australia. In busier times, he required up to 15,000 stems of one rose variety for one wedding and he says the local market can't always make that demand. Another big destination for imported flowers are supermarkets. 

Roses, carnations and chrysanthemums have become the biggest import items into Australia and as the number of imported flowers has grown sharply over the last decade, smaller growers have struggled to compete. Due to the low labor costs, these imported flowers are lower in price as well. Originally, Australia had a couple of 100 rose growers and we are now nearly down to about 30, explains flower grower Sal Russo. 

Not only he, but also a number of national farm lobby groups have big concerns about imported fresh flowers. "It is quite surprising that we haven't had a major pest or disease incursion threatening us 27 million dollar industry already", says Tyson Cattle of National Farmers' Federation. This organization isn't convinced that the federal government is taking the threat seriously enough. Kenya, Ecuador and Colombia are their three countries with their main concerns as they, according to the federal department of agriculture, are showing consistent high rates of non-compliance, so carrying foreign pests and diseases.

Fortunately, the rates are decreasing. Peter Creaser of the Federal Agricultural Department says: "We've seen a change from 45% non-compliance down to 25% overall." Important to understand, he says, is that they do inspect all flowers coming in to Australia and when they talk about non-compliance, it does not mean that those flowers are being released into the environment without any action, they are being inspected and if there are any light pests of concern, we will have those flowers treated here in Australia.

Exporters now have to fumigate flowers before they arrive into Australia or have them certified by national plant protection agencies. And anyone who wants to import flowers from Kenya, Ecuador or Colombia needs a permit to make tracing it easier.

Some experts say those measures don't go far enough. But opinions are divided. Click here to see the complete broadcast on abc.net.au.


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