BANANA QUARANTINE: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Will we kill off our golden goose?
, November 15, 2003
Scientists predict that there is a significant possibility that the world's banana industry will be wiped out by diseases within a decade. Australia could become the major world supplier of bananas, but local growers are very concerned that Biosecurity Australia, which has already watered down quarantine restrictions on Philippines pineapples and mangoes, will do the same for bananas.
If Australia's banana quarantine rules are weakened, it would be almost certain that diseases like black sigatoka and moko, endemic in the Philippines, would wipe out the Australian industry and kill off a potential golden goose.
Half a billion people in Asia and Africa rely on several banana types as a staple food. But black sigatoka is doing to bananas what the blight did to potatoes, causing famine in mid-19th century Ireland.
The problem occurs because bananas have almost no genetic diversity and therefore no ability to develop resistance to diseases. Bananas are propagated from cuttings, not from sexual reproduction. As News Scientist
(January 18, 2003) explained, "each variety of modern bananas ... has come down from a separate sterile forest mutant. Each is a virtual clone, almost devoid of genetic diversity."Wiped out
From the 1820s until the 1950s, the dominant commercial banana was Gros Michel, a richer and sweeter variety than today's Cavendish banana, but it was wiped out by a soil fungus.
Only the propagation of the Cavendish banana, from southern China, saved the industry from oblivion. However, the Cavendish is now under threat from black sigatoka, which originated in Fiji in 1963 and now is endemic worldwide, except for Australia.
It can only be battled with massive chemical assaults annually. Those chemicals cause leukemia and sterility in humans.
One small outbreak of black sigatoka in north Queensland took $20 million to eradicate, a world first. But Moko, which survives dormant on bananas for up to three months, would never be controlled in our wet tropical areas.
The Australian Banana Grower's Council points out that to date, Australia's Import Risk Assessments (IRAs) have ruled out Philippines banana imports.
The Council said that in the absence of any new science, "then the decision [not to allow in Philippines bananas] should not change."