Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Red zone cordon for bio-threat

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Photo / Supplied
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A 1.5km red zone cordon surrounds the Auckland suburb of Avondale in a bid to contain a biological disaster that experts fear could decimate New Zealand's $3.5 billion fruit and vegetable export industry.

A male Queensland fruit fly was found in a surveillance trap in neighbouring Mt Roskill on Tuesday.

Government biosecurity inspectors have been joined by Auckland Council bio experts and emergency response staff to try and contain an outbreak and search for more pests.

They are setting traps in residents' backyards, checking fruit trees, vegetable gardens and rubbish bins for any signs of fruit flies.

Households are being handed notices telling them to put their fresh fruit and vegetables in airtight containers, and urging them to avoid composting.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is also dispensing special bins inside the controlled area for the disposal of fruit and vegetable waste.

Restricted-place notices are being put up barring people from taking fresh fruit and vegetables outside the restricted areas.

The measures are likely to last for at least a fortnight, the MPI said today.

Deputy director general for compliance and response Andrew Coleman said: "These controls are an important precaution while we investigate whether there are any further fruit flies in the area.

"The Queensland fruit fly is an unwanted and notifiable insect that could have serious consequences for our horticultural industries. While we urgently search for any further signs of the fruit fly in the Avondale area, we need the support of local people."

A Controlled Area Notice is in force from approximately the intersection of Blockhouse Bay Rd and Trent St in the north to the end of Blockhouse Bay Rd in the south; and from the intersection of Great North Rd and Memorial Drive in the west, and approximately number 33 Maioro St in the east.

Whole fresh fruit and vegetables cannot be taken out of the cordon.

Within a smaller area, Zone A - a circle 200 metres out from the initial find - whole fruit and vegetables cannot be moved off properties at all.

However, fruit and vegetables can continue to be transported from outside the restricted areas into them.

Key fruits, vegetables and plants of concern are all citrus fruits, all stonefruit, pears, apples, blackberry, boysenberry, grapes, feijoa, passionfruit, tomato, eggplant, capsicum, pumpkin, avocado, custard apple, quince, persimmon, loquat, olives, oleander, kumquat, crab-apple, cape gooseberry and guava.

"At this stage a single male fly has been found in a surveillance trap, and this does not mean there is a population of the fly in New Zealand, but we need to limit the transport of any material that could carry the fly or its larvae while we investigate the situation," said Mr Coleman.

"It is vital that we ascertain if the insect is a solitary find or if there is a wider population in Auckland."

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said his council is helping where it can.

He called for a measured response and encouraged residents to support the operation.

Horticultural New Zealand moved to play down fears of a biosecurity disaster - despite receiving "volatile'' phone calls from panicked growers.

"Growers have been ringing," said president Andrew Fenton. "They are constantly worried about it and can be pretty volatile on this sort of issue and who can blame them?

"We have to keep it in perspective, and take a responsible and measured attitude towards it. It's a little blip.''

The fly, also known as Q'fly, is considered Australia's most serious insect pest of fruit and vegetable crops.

It infests more than 100 species of fruit, including commercial crops such as avocado, citrus, feijoa, grape, peppers, persimmon, pipfruit, and stonefruit.

Mr Fenton said there has been 53 similar finds since 2006 and the problem has never escalated.

But he accepted it was raising special concern this time round because it has occurred in the middle of harvest season.

"The Queensland fruit fly is potentially our biggest horticultural threat because a lot of the countries we export to don't have Queensland fruit fly, and they don't want it, just as we don't.

"But, again, we have to keep things in perspective. They only found one fly, were onto it really early, and it's only a male - he can't do much on his own."

The Green Party said the find highlights the Government's "shaky assurances" that border control procedures are enough to kerb potential fruit fly infestations.

Biosecurity and Customs spokesman Steffan Browning said the Direct Exit scheme, based on 'risk profiling' of airport passengers, enables those deemed a 'low risk' to biosecurity to bypass the x-ray process.

"This scheme has cut biosecurity resources in favour of perceived efficiency to save eight minutes per passenger,'' he said.

"Direct Exit trials reveal that out of 1186 biosecurity hazards seized, 51 were from passengers profiled as 'low risk'. Of these, 17 were fruit fly host material."

The cost of a fruit fly outbreak from just a single piece of undeclared fruit has been estimated at $800m in the first year, the Greens say.

Mr Browning, who will visit the red zone cordon this weekend, added: "Balanced against an eight-minute increase in efficiency, it's a hard risk to justify."

- NZ Herald

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