5 Jul 2012

PSA report highlights communication breakdown

2:19 pm on 5 July 2012

An independent report into how the kiwifruit vine disease PSA entered the country has highlighted a breakdown in communication between industry and the Government.

The review released on Wednesday was not able to determine how PSA arrived but does identify four shortcomings with biosecurity systems including inadequate import controls on kiwifruit pollen.

Officials also failed to recognise the risk posed by an outbreak in Italy which affected gold kiwifruit for the first time in 2009.

Ministry for Primary Industries director-general Wayne McNee says the industry must shoulder some responsibility for the incursion as it knew the disease was present in Italy.

He says it would have been useful if the industry had been in closer contact with the Government, but says the ministry also takes some responsibility for that.

Kiwifruit Vine Health, the industry body leading the response to PSA, says the proposed system of Government Industry Agreements is an ideal way for Government and industry to work together more closely to strengthen border security.

Pollen imports

The report says New Zealand imported pollen from China, where PSA is present, and other countries including Chile from 2009, for use on kiwifruit orchards.

In May 2010, Plant and Food Research found PSA could be transmitted by pollen, which countered earlier research saying the opposite.

General manager of science Philippa Stevens says it did not pass those findings on to the government for several months.

She said the institute was not aware pollen was being imported for use on orchards, as its own import permit required pollen to be destroyed at the end of the research project.

When PSA was confirmed in Te Puke later in 2010, pollen imports were stopped.

However on Wednesday Mr McNee said that to the best of his knowledge pollen imported from China had been used only for research and later destroyed.

Mr McNee said the ministry will adopt all six recommendations in the report, including improving connectedness between it and industry groups.

Grower suspects pollen imports to blame

Te Puke organic kiwifruit grower Leo Whittle is convinced PSA arrived in imported pollen.

Mr Whittle says he alerted MAF and Zespri to it in November 2010, just after PSA was first identified in Te Puke.

He felt there was a strong connection between the outbreak and the distribution of pollen that had been imported several weeks before.

Mr Whittle says he was intially concerned about the practice of using imported pollen because of the risk of exposing bees to infections.

Meanwhile, he says his green organic kiwifruit vines are showing primary symptoms of PSA, such as leaf spotting, but nothing more so far while three badly infected neighbouring orchards have been cut out.