Citrus Canker identified in Queensland

6 July 2004
DAFF04/23D



A national approach has been agreed to control and eradicate the plant disease, Citrus Canker, from a farm at Emerald, in central Queensland.

The National Management Group (NMG) of Australian Agricultural Department CEOs and peak industry heads today agreed to the immediate destruction of infected oranges from the farm and to continue surveys to determine the extent of the exotic disease outbreak.

The disease was positively identified this morning and follows the quarantine of the 1,200 hectare property on 30 June, restricting the movement of all plant and plant related material. 

The Shires of Emerald, Peak Downs, and Bauhinia were also gazetted by Queensland on 2 July as pest quarantine areas to further restrict the movement of any citrus products and material except under licence conditions.

The Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Graeme Hamilton, said Citrus Canker is an extremely serious exotic disease that affects all types of citrus crops including oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes.

“This is a major blow for the Australian citrus industry, but there are some positives namely the disease appears to be restricted to the one property and has been discovered in an isolated production area,” Dr Hamilton said. 

“The priority now is containment, eradication through destruction of infected plant material, extensive surveying and market access issues surrounding the resumption on interstate trade in Queensland citrus produce.”

Extensive samples are being collected from the infected property and the surrounding area in an attempt to find the source of the outbreak.

In mid-2001, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and Queensland authorities investigated allegations of illegally imported plant material on the property in question at Emerald. The investigation found insufficient evidence to support a prosecution.

AQIS has checked its records and confirmed that no import permits have been issued to the firm that owns the Emerald property.

All citrus material imported into Australia must pass through post-entry quarantine at the Eastern Creek, NSW Plant Quarantine Station, where it is tested for citrus canker. AQIS has no records of citrus canker being detected on any citrus nursery stock in post-entry quarantine.

A move by Australian States to temporarily ban the importation of Queensland citrus produce is being addressed through the development of market access protocols that will outline under what conditions interstate trade will resume.

The protocols will be designed to ensure the disease is not spread and to send a clear message to overseas markets that it is contained to a small area in central east Queensland.

Dr Hamilton said the disease is caused by a highly contagious bacterium and infected trees continually decline in health and fruit production until no fruit is produced at all. 

It can be spread by windborne rain, lawnmowers and landscaping equipment, animals and birds, people carrying the infection on their hands, clothing or equipment, or by moving infected or exposed plants or plant parts.

Citrus canker is common in many tropical and sub-tropical citrus growing areas of the world including Japan, Central Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, and some areas of South America. It has had a devastating impact on the citrus industry in Florida, US.

There have been several outbreaks of the disease in Australia, most notably in the Northern Territory in 1912, 1991 and 1993. All were successfully eradicated by removing and destroying host plants in the wider vicinity of infected areas.

Farm workers and industry organisations have been advised of the quarantine restrictions and a national group of technical and industry experts, the Consultative Committee on Exotic Plant Pests, chaired by Dr Hamilton, is actively managing the issue. 

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