Editorial: Kiwifruit growers justified in anger

By Scott Inglis


The latest chapter in the costly Psa saga raises fair questions over how good our biosecurity controls are.

A damning report has revealed several failings that should be sounding alarm bells through the kiwifruit and other industries.

The independent review, by the Sapere Research Group, found four main biosecurity shortcomings: import requirements for kiwifruit pollen were inadequate; a formal risk analysis for pollen imports should have been carried out; there was too much reliance that Psa would be detected within the minimum six-month quarantine period; and a consignment of nursery stock was released from quarantine without being tested for the bacteria.

The report recommends measures, including prioritising resources towards risk management for economically significant industries; centralising the management of emerging risks; improving transparency of when organic products are coming into the country for the first time; ensuring that border processes for imports of risk goods are robust; and improving communication with industry and research organisations.

The Ministry for Primary Industries moved quickly yesterday, holding a press conference and telling the country it would be implementing all these recommendations. It is important to remember there is no evidence any of the identified shortcomings led to the Psa outbreak.

But growers are upset, and I can't blame them. They are seeking legal advice over whether they should be taking action over these failures.

Local grower Rob Thode wants a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

I was surprised when I read the findings of the report yesterday. I know the Government made biosecurity budget cuts in 2009 but nevertheless assumed it would still ensure everything possible was being done to protect critical industries such as kiwifruit.

I was wrong. I cannot understand, for example, why nursery stock was released from quarantine without being tested for Psa and why pollen import requirements were not up to scratch.

I can understand the anger that growers like Mr Thode feel. They have invested their livelihoods into kiwifruit, expecting our biosecurity systems to be robust, and will feel betrayed.

Labour's Damien O'Connor says the report blows apart claims that we have a world-class border control system.

It certainly makes me wonder if there are other shortcomings we don't know about. Of course, no matter how good our controls and systems are, there is always the risk something will slip through the net.

In this case, the ministry is doing the right thing by adopting these recommendations. The safety of our important industries is paramount.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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