The Australian garlic industry is in shock with Leticia Ware, Tasmanian garlic grower, ‘guru’ of the industry, and chair of the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA), charged with the illegal importation of garlic.
Considering the potential biosecurity implications of her actions for Australia, the agriculture sector has been left dumbfounded.
In early September, Ware pleaded guilty to 10 charges: three counts of aggravated illegal importation of plants, and seven counts of importing conditionally non-prohibited goods.
Garlic is a known host for a dangerous plant pathogen known as Xylella fastidiosa, which is not present in Australia, but is native to the United States and Canada. X fastidiosa could put at risk over 350 native, commercial and ornamental plant species in Australia.
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Garlic can also host a number of other exotic pathogens and pests, including a bacteria that causes such diseases as leaf blight, onion smut and leaf spot.
Ware’s business, Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic, boasts the “Largest range of specialty culinary & seed garlic in Australia”.
The website states, “We are passionate about garlic and bringing the best of the world’s culinary and seed garlic to Australia”.
“With currently 56 cultivars, we have another 80 cultivars on the way. Our natural selection breeding programs rigorously cull for vigour, plant health and flavour for three years before releasing to the public.
“We grow with naturally fertile, healthy, biologically active soils for plant health and bulb flavour and are committed to our Certified Organic status.”
Ware has won many awards for her garlic, the business also provided training and tours and provided excellent free advice for growers through social media channels. She’s even appeared on Gardening Australia. However, of great concern to growers is that she sold garlic varieties around the country, including into Southern NSW, which has a significant garlic industry. Around 30 growers operate in Braidwood alone.
When the charges became public Ware stepped down as chair of the AGIA; she has been sentenced to 11 months’ jail.
The AGIA Board released a statement saying “Remaining board members were unaware of Leticia’s illegal activities, whose actions contravene AGIA’s objectives to support a thriving and healthy Australian garlic industry”.
“The board strongly condemns any behaviour that jeopardises biosecurity or the Australian agricultural industry.
“We understand that many Garlic Growers are concerned for the safety of their own crops, and can take some level of relief that Justice Gleeson [sic] found that this imported garlic was not diseased.”
Among evidence tendered to court was advice Ware sent to a supplier to subvert importation restrictions: “Please do not declare garlic on customs as it will be picked up through quarantine. Many thanks, Letetia.”
Further, she gave instructions to those suppliers about how to pack the product in order to minimise the risk of interception.
In sentencing, Justice Gregory Geason said, “You did so without complying with any of the mandatory requirements for the importation of those bulbils”.
“The law does not confer upon you or anyone else a right of self-regulation, the authority to make your own assessment about risk, and your own judgment about the need to comply.
“Your conduct demonstrates that you saw yourself as above compliance with Australia’s quarantine laws. There is an arrogance in your behaviour.
“Indeed, I am amazed that you could, on the one hand, claim organic accreditation, and all that certification stands for and, at the same time, flagrantly flout the quarantine regime with all the risks to agriculture that that course of conduct entails,” Justice Geason said.
The judge said Ware had never held an import permit for the importation of garlic.
It was not a one-off event for Ware. Ware imported a total of 2,186 garlic bulbils on 21 occasions.
In 2015 the Department of Agriculture intercepted an illegal shipment to Ware which was destroyed. Justice Geason observed that “intervention by the authorities did not cause you to reflect on your behaviour and to desist”.
“So determined were you in avoiding your obligations that you even chastised some suppliers when they failed to follow your instructions about mis-declaring the garlic,” Justice Geason said.
“This offending continued over a period of 18 months, ceasing only upon your being caught. You cannot claim that this was a mere aberration.”
Ware pleaded guilty to the charges.
While the maximum penalty applicable to each offence is imprisonment for 10 years, or a pecuniary penalty of $360,000, or both, Justice Geason directed that Ware “be released from custody after serving two months of that sentence on condition that you enter into a recognisance in the sum of $2,000, and are of good behaviour for a period of three years”.
Original Article published by Alex Rea on About Regional.