19 Jul 2011

Wine growers, HortNZ concerned over Chinese import system

10:09 pm on 19 July 2011

Wine growers are questioning whether new biosecurity standards agreed between New Zealand and China will be followed.

Horticulture New Zealand has also expressed concerns.

As part of the New Zealand-China free trade agreement negotiated last year, new import health standards and associated quality assurance programmes have been introduced for pears including nashi pears, table grapes and peeled onions being imported from China.

Produce will be checked for pests and diseases before leaving China.

New Zealand Wine Growers science and innovations manager Philip Manson says he's concerned about whether agreed processes will be followed.

Mr Manson says it is also difficult for New Zealand to know and identify all pests and diseases in a foreign country.

However, a private Blenheim grape grower, Simon Bishell, says he has confidence in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and its decisions.

MAF plant imports and exports manager Stephen Butcher says the same audit systems have been used successfully for fruit and vegetables imports from Australia for decades.

He says pre-border assurance is more efficient and effective than just inspecting goods when they arrive in the country.

The agreement covering table grapes, for example, identifies potential pest and disease risks. As part of the assurance programme, Chinese authorities will register all vineyards producing table grapes for export to New Zealand.

An agreement has also been signed covering New Zealand apple exports to China.

Mr Butcher says MAF is in discussion with Chinese authorities to develop quality assurance programmes for other crops, including unpeeled onions.

He says the audit includes regular visits by MAF staff to China.

HNZ concerns

Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) chief executive Peter Silcock says the organisation has raised concerns with MAF about the ability of Chinese authorities to provide a comprehensive and accurate list of pests and diseases for a particular crop.

"For example, with onions, we've been quite concerned about some of the viruses that may come in with soil on onions."

Mr Silcock says both HortNZ and the body which represents onion growers and exporters will be taking a close interest in plans by the Chinese to export onions with skins on to New Zealand.

Former Biosecurity head supportive

The chairperson of the now defunct Biosecurity Council, John Hellstrom, says allowing China to control biosecurity for a number of fruits imported here may prove safer than having it done here.

Dr Hellstrom says China's past food inspection issues are irrelevant when it comes to their pre-border biosecurity checks.

He says it is safer to check produce for pests and disease before they leave a country, as checking once they arrive can still present a risk to New Zealand.

Dr Hellstrom says his past dealings with Chinese biosecurity showed them to be professional and well-qualified.