Last spring, Letetia Ware, the then-head of the Australian Garlic Industry Association, discussed the country's high standards for its home-grown garlic, and warned that imported garlic bulbs could be problematic on several levels. "There are many countries around the world that are using chemicals, herbicides, fungicides that would be restricted or prohibited in Australia, so we have a different level of contamination coming in," she told ABC News at the time. Ware also suggested that non-Aussie garlic affected already struggling garlic farmers, who were still trying to rebuild an industry that collapsed in the mid-1990s because of—say it with us—imported garlic.
So it's both shocking and darkly ironic that Ware just pleaded guilty to 10 charges related to importing more than 2,000 garlic bulbs and, on top of that, she's been fined $2,000 and sentenced to up to 11 months in prison.
According to ABC News, Ware used her eBay accounts to purchase and import three varieties of garlic from Canada and the United States. She also told her online suppliers to label all of the packages as "office supplies," so they wouldn't be required to have importation permits or get fumigated when they reached Australia.
As a garlic expert, she should've known that her shady bulbs were hazardous, especially because the varieties she bought have been known to host a particularly nasty plant pathogen called xylella fastidiosa.
"[Xylella fastidiosa] is the plant equivalent of foot-and-mouth disease for animals, it's horrendous. It's number one on the we-don't-want-it-here list," Jan Davis, an agricultural consultant and former chairperson of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, said. "If those garlic bulbils carried that disease, worst-case scenario it could have wiped out Tasmania's vineyards."
Justice Gregory Geason, who both accepted Ware's guilty plea and handed out her sentence, wasn't impressed by her behavior, either.
"She's the lead person in the garlic society and yet she's quite prepared to import not once, not twice, garlic that could be diseased at great risk to Tasmania's agricultural industry and the nation's," he said. "The fact that they weren't diseased is just good luck. This conduct is difficult to detect so a harsh penalty is needed to cause others to pause before engaging in similar activity."
In a statement, the Australian Garlic Industry Association said that it didn't know about Ware's questionable activities until they heard about her guilty plea on the news.
"On Thursday evening the Board met and unanimously agreed to call for Letetia’s resignation, which was requested and has now been tendered for acceptance by the Board," the Association wrote." Remaining board members were unaware of Letetia’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."
Despite the verbal takedown that Ware received in court, she still has plenty of supporters.
"I have been growing commericially [sic] for 4 year and wish I had 10% of the knowledge Letetia has on garlic," one man wrote. "We all make mistakes and pretty sure her passion for new garlic cultivars was the driver of her few bad decisions." Another added that "nothing she does now" can take away her "phenomenal contribution" to the garlic industry.
Ware could be out of jail after serving at least two months of her sentence, and remain out as long as she remains on good behavior for a period of three years. That probably means spending three years logged out of eBay, too.