Australia and Pakistan bog down in wheat row
CANBERRA: An Australian wheat exporter on Friday sharply criticised Pakistan for rejecting 150,000 metric tonnes of the Australian wheat because of alleged contamination by karnal bunt fungus.
AWB Limited Company and the Australian government have rejected the allegation that the wheat consignment is tainted by the fungus. Australian officials, agencies and the company say that karnal bunt is not present nor has it ever been detected in Australia.
“The escalating row over the wheat has prompted Prime Minister John Howard to write to President Pervez Musharraf, expressing his concern about Pakistani testing of the wheat and a need for a third country testing,” an Australian government spokesman said on Thursday.
The Australian government on Thursday urged Pakistan to support a third round of tests of the wheat, this time using the DNA technology. Australia is a major global wheat exporter and apart from the immediate concerns about this consignment, is worried that the possible confirmation of karnal bunt could jeopardise its wheat trade.
David Johnson, who manages AWB’s collective sales pool, said the company had serious concerns that the Pakistani authorities did not follow recognised international procedures in connection with wheat testing. “The scientific methodology and process being followed by the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation to test the wheat is flawed,” the spokesman said.
“Despite repeated requests from the Australian government, the Pakistani government hasn’t confirmed the testing results nor have they responded to an official request to have the wheat tested in an independent country. This suggests the Pakistani government is unwilling or unable to substantiate its claims. AWB wants the samples tested by an independent third party, but Pakistan is unwilling to subject their process to the same transparency and rigor,” he said.
AWB tested the wheat several times on loading in four cargoes in Australia, again on arrival in Pakistan in February and the results showed it had exceeded the contractual quality parameters and did not contain karnal bunt, he added.
This was confirmed by an independent internationally recognised supervising company, Intertek Caleb Brett, who also tested the cargoes, he said. He said AWB would help the Tradesman International the Pakistani company that bought the wheat find a buyer for it. Last week, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, a government agency, said the nation’s wheat export industry could be devastated if karnal bunt was confirmed in Australia.
Karnal bunt is a smut fungus that develops a strong fishy odour in infected grains. When more than three percent of grains become infected with the fungus the wheat becomes unfit for human consumption. —AP