30 Oct 2019

Solutions on the horizon after biosecurity row over fruit tree cuttings

10:46 am on 30 October 2019

Significant changes to how new varieties of fruit are imported into New Zealand are on the way, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Biosecurity sign, Auckland Airport.

Photo: RNZ

The reforms are being seen as a long-awaited follow-up to last year's biosecurity row with an important fruit research organisation in the United States.

That problem began 16 months ago with the dramatic seizure of 48,000 fruit tree cuttings by officials from MPI.

While they were not necessarily infected with pests or diseases, they were deemed not to have been properly tested before they left the US.

The organisation that supplied them, the Clean Plant Centre North West (CPCNW), in Washington State, was then struck off the list of approved suppliers, depriving New Zealand growers of an essential source of new varieties of fruit.

Since then, MPI officials have been working to fix the problem.

Peter Thomson, director of Plants and Pathways at Biosecurity New Zealand, a branch of MPI, said: "Our focus continues to be on assisting importers affected by the 2018 biosecurity response".

"This has included identifying ways to release apple and stonefruit plants in post entry quarantine that comply with our import rules.

"It also includes ensuring that biosecurity risks from other consignments of stonefruit held in post entry quarantine have been appropriately managed."

MPI officials had tested all the plants that had been seized, ruled out the presence of pests and diseases, and returned them to ownership by the orchards and nurseries that had imported them, Mr Thomson said.

Then, they developed two new sets of rules: For people importing stonefruit plants to this country, and for foreign suppliers that deliver goods to New Zealand.

The first of these will be published next month.

Mr Thomson said officials were in touch with the Americans.

"We are continuing to communicate with the CPCNW while we review our requirements for offshore facilities."

"We intend to visit the facility once our new requirements are finalised, and after CPCNW indicates they ready for auditing."

Orchardists and nursery managers here have long valued the Washington State centre because of its advanced research facilities and extensive intellectual property rights over new fruit varieties.

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