I was recently intrigued to learn that 45 percent of the world’s opiate alkaloids—that is, the ones incorporated into prescription medicines rather than illicit narcotics—come from Tasmanian poppies. The Australian state’s dominance in this industry is the result of several factors, starting with its unique geography; tucked away in the Southern Hemisphere and surrounded by water, it has natural security advantages over more accessible rivals. But Tasmanian poppy growers have also benefitted from astute regulatory oversight, which has included healthy public investment in agricultural research—research that has dramatically increased the per-poppy opiate yield over the decades.
But Tasmania evidently isn’t producing enough poppies, at least according to TPI Enterprises, the dominant processor on the island. TPI now wants to import additional poppies from Turkey, a plan that is causing no small amount of consternation among their domestic growers. To press their case, those growers are arguing that TPI’s Turkish plans could undermine Tasmania in some rather unexpected ways:
At the hearing, held in Launceston, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association’s Jan Davis raised concerns surrounding biosecurity, which Mr Rice shared.
“If you’re going to import 2000 tonnes of raw poppy capsule into Tasmania and that’s going to take a minimum of 150 to 200 containers … the bio-sec and risk associated with that is enormous,” he said.
Mr Rice said there was also the issue of intellectual property theft, with Tasmanian poppy seeds being taken over to Turkey to be modelled and grown.
I find the last point most interesting, and perhaps most convincing. While it is hard to imagine a transnational crime syndicate having the wherewithal to steal massive quantities of poppy capsules from container ships, I can easily see the dangers in poppy-related IP theft. Yield is everything in industries such as this, and the secrets of those yields are bound up in the unique genetic makeup of each seed. If a country with lower labor and land costs can figure out how to produce a crop on par with Tasmania’s, they could dominate the market a decade down the line. The advantages of being a remote island can only take Tasmania so far.