5 Jul 2012

Kiwifruit growers take legal advice over PSA

3:15 pm on 5 July 2012

The kiwifruit growers' association is considering legal action over the outbreak of the vine disease PSA and says it can't rule out seeking compensation.

An independent review released on Wednesday into how the bacterium came into New Zealand has found there were shortcomings with biosecurity systems, but it does not say that caused the entry.

The disease was first confirmed near Te Puke in 2010 and has infected 40% of the country's kiwifruit orchards. It is expected to cost the industry $410 million dollars in the next five years.

Ministry for Primary Industries director general Wayne McNee said the review did not determine how PSA came into the country but does show where improvements can be made.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco says he can't rule out that compensation will be sought by growers.

But he says all he can say at present is that the organisation will have a Queens Counsel study the report.

Biosecurity shortcomings

The review found four main shortcomings at the border at the time of the PSA incursion, the ministry says.

Import regulations on kiwifruit pollen were inadequate, because they were based on a scientific review ruling out the possibility of PSA travelling on pollen, which has since been proved wrong.

The process used to develop the pollen regulations was deficient because a formal risk analysis for pollen imports was never carried out. New Zealand imported pollen from Chile until the PSA outbreak in 2010.

Import regulations on nursery stock were insufficient, as the six-month quarantine process would not have detected PSA in symptomless plants.

There was confusion among staff about how to implement the import regulations. At one stage, for example, a shipment of nursery stock skipped quarantine.

Improvements suggested in the report include that the ministry reorganise its resources to focus on economically-significant industries, ensures border controls for risky goods are robust, improves its connectedness with industry and research groups and sets up a research fund for areas of biosecurity uncertainty.

Review of biosecurity urged

The Labour and Green parties have criticised the Government for making biosecurity cutbacks in 2009.

Labour's biosecurity spokesperson Damien O'Connor told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that biosecurity has become subservient to the Government's trade objectives and the system has been dumbed down.

He is calling for a review, and says claims by Minister for Primary Industries David Carter and others that New Zealand's biosecurity system is world class are a "complete fallacy".

Green Party MP Steffan Browning says the report's recommendations are simply a shuffling around of limited resources.

However Ministry for Primary Industries director general Wayne McNee told Morning Report he doesn't believe more money needs to be spent on border control.

"It's a matter of making sure we put the resources in the right place and that we have all of our people working more effectively with our industry."

He says an extra 40 staff and eight detector dog trainers are being recruited.

Mr McNee says the ministry will immediately begin implementing recommendations outlined in the report and will report back on them in three months.

Industry body supports recommendations

The industry body leading the response to the disease supports the recommendations for improving the biosecurity system.

Kiwifruit Vine Health board member and grower representative Peter Ombler says the report has identified a lack of urgency on a number of fronts, and also that border security did not react to the fact that PSA was changing globally.

Mr Ombler agrees with the review's finding that the kiwifruit industry also has to take some of the blame for not waking up to the threat of PSA sooner.

The review says the marketer, Zespri, made optimistic assumptions about biosecurity protection, and with its first hand knowledge of the impact PSA was having on Italian orchards, must accept some responsibility for not looking more closely at import requirements.

Mr Ombler says transmission of the PSA bacterium through kiwifruit pollen imports remains a strong possibility.