​Media Release

International banana disease experts called in

14 April 2015

​The Australian Government will support international banana disease experts Professor Altus Viljoen and Dr Chih-Ping Chao to meet with industry and government to assist with the response to the incursion of Panama disease, Tropical Race 4.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said the ​incursion of Panama disease, Tropical Race 4 was a very serious threat to the Queensland banana industry that demanded a coordinated response based on the best available science.

“My department is working closely with the Queensland Government to ensure that the emergency response effort is effective and that full support is provided to the local industry,” Minister Joyce said.

“Australian biosecurity is based on the best available science and it will be critical that our response to this threat is informed by the best international research.

“Senator for Queensland, Barry O'Sullivan has requested the Australian Government fund Professor Altus Viljoen from South Africa and Dr Chih-Ping Chao, Director of the Taiwan Banana Research Institute, to meet with the banana industry and government,” Minister Joyce said today.

Senator O’Sullivan said it was crucial industry had access to the best biosecurity expertise in the world as it determines its response plan to the outbreak.

“Access to reliable information is essential when confronting a biosecurity threat,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“These experts are among the best in their field and will make an enormous contribution as our response to this disease is executed.

“I was in the banana growing regions of North Queensland within a few days of the first outbreak and have continued to relay information back to Minister Joyce as developments have arisen.

“We both understand how important this industry is to North Queensland and want to see it remain strong,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

Professor Viljoen is a world renowned expert on control options and understanding the physiological basis for tolerant varieties for banana Fusarium wilt, specialising particularly on Panama Disease Tropical Race 4.  He is a consultant on banana Fusarium wilt activities throughout Africa and Asia.

Dr Chi-Ping Chao is best known for his work to develop diagnostic techniques for Panama disease, Tropical Race 4 and development of tolerant varieties. He will address the stages the Taiwan industry went through in dealing with the disease, and how they have arrived at their breeding program using selection from tissue-culture plantings to find resistance.

“Professor Viljoen and Dr Chao will provide the Australian industry with critical information to inform our national response to this issue and forge strong international networks with local industries into the future,” Minister Joyce said.

“This is an important initiative that I am very pleased to support.”

To date, the Australian Government has delivered $210,000 to fund a range of biosecurity measures for the emergency response effort.

“In addition, the Australian Government is contributing specialised personnel to help with tracing and planning activities and facilitating access to specialise equipment to allow rapid diagnosis of high volumes of plant material,” Minister Joyce said.

“We are also supporting the emergency response through on-ground surveillance teams that will assess the extent of infection and funding communication activities to ensure awareness of biosecurity protocols that will be essential to reducing the risk of spreading the disease.”

Panama disease is considered to be one of the most destructive diseases of banana. It is spread by soil and water, and with movement of infected planting material. Panama disease, Tropical race 4, is present in South East Asia and the Northern Territory.

Panama disease poses no threat to human health.

For more information, visit daff.qld.gov.au/plants/health-pests-diseases/a-z-significant/panama-disease2​.