When the chips are down … fight to keep out the Kiwi spud invaders

THE potato industry has stepped up its fight to block imports of New Zealand potatoes, with the launch of an online campaign that portrays the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and ministers Joe Ludwig and Craig Emerson as children playing a video game.

The campaign by AUSVEG, an industry body representing Australia's 9000 vegetable growers, has been fighting a Biosecurity Australia proposal to lift a 24-year import ban - under strict quarantine rules - and accuses the government of trifling with the industry's wellbeing.

The industry fears its crops could be devastated by zebra chip disease if the ban is lifted but the government says the potatoes would be under strict quarantine control and blocking their import would be detrimental to Australian trade.

Zebra chip disease affects the starch and sugar levels in potatoes, making them unfit for sale. Australia's $614 million potato industry is free of the disease.

Submissions on the draft decision closed on Monday and yesterday AUSVEG launched a video showing Ms Gillard, Dr Emerson and Senator Ludwig playing a Space Invaders-style video game between the two countries with a tally of the number of potatoes destroyed. They are portrayed as children, with Dr Emerson picking his nose.

William Churchill of AUSVEG said the industry was angry the government had not blocked the proposal. He said other vegetable and fruit industries had complained about ''the lack of scientific rigour applied to imports of fresh produce'', labelling the risk analyses ''selective''.

Vanessa Findlay, the chief plant protection officer at the Agriculture Department said the disease had been monitored for five years.

Since 2010, 13,000 tonnes of New Zealand tomatoes and capsicums have been imported under strict biosecurity rules with no detection of the disease in Australia.

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