Letitia Ware, former chairman of the Australian Garlic Industry Association, pleaded guilty to charges of importing illegal plant material.
In the course of running her business, Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic, Ware imported more than 2000 strictly restricted garlic bulbs. She confessed to using multiple eBay accounts to ship the bulbs from international suppliers.
To avoid customs detection, she asked the suppliers to label the packages as office supplies and divide them into quantities less than 150 grams.
Justice Gregory Geason described the practice as “protracted” rather than “a mere aberration.” The methodical, prolonged nature of Ware’s crimes convinced him to send “a strong message to deter others from engaging in similar behaviour.”
Ware’s sentence of eleven months and $2000 certainly conveys this message. The maximum penalties for similar offenses reaches up to 10 years and $360,000.
Eleven months may seem a lot for garlic, but this specific type of garlic packs a punch. They can potentially carry Xyella fastidiosa, a disease listed as the biggest threat to Australian biodiversity.
Xyella fastitiosa is a plant pathogen transmitted by a species of sap insect. Infection leads to several other symptoms and diseases, depending on the strain, climate, and host. Generally, infection severely reduces a host plant’s ability to transport water to extremities, causing leaf scorch and restricting further plant growth.
X. fastitiosa has recently killed over one million olive trees in Italy alone. It also affects grape, coffee, and citrus crops worldwide, and especially in California, South America, and Europe.
Australia remains uninfected at this time.