New Zealand has suspended exports of tomatoes and capsicums after a debilitating bacterium was found in three North Island hothouses.
MAF Biosecurity New Zealand said today it had withdrawn phytosanitary certification for fresh tomato and capsicum exports until further notice.
"This is a significant find which could impact on our export markets," MAF said in a statement.
Total exports of tomatoes are valued at $7.3 million, while capsicums are worth $34m. Australia is the largest importer of the products, while Japan, the Pacific Islands, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are other capsicum markets. Those countries have been informed about the outbreak.
MAF director of border standards Tim Knox said the withdrawal of certification was a precautionary measure until more information about the bacterium was known.
Little was known about how the bacterium entered New Zealand, or its transmission and distribution.
"We have initiated a programme of research to answer these questions. The results of this research will help determine the feasibility of options for managing the disease.
"Initial findings suggest that the bacterium may be transmitted by a small insect called the tomato/potato psyllid."
He said there were no considered human health issues associated with the bacterium or with eating tomatoes or capsicum.
At this time of year exports of tomatoes and capsicum are negligible - they usually begin on a large scale in October.
The bacterium affects both the growth and quality of plants and reduces yield.
Symptoms in both tomatoes and capsicums may vary across varieties and growing conditions, but include leaf curling and yellowing in tomatoes, stunting of the plant and fruit occasionally misshapen with a strawberry-like appearance.
Symptoms in capsicums include pale green or yellow leaves with spiky tips. Leaves may be misshapen, leaf stalks appear short, flowers may drop and plant top may die back.
Movement controls would not be put in place, because symptoms had been present for several months, Mr Knox said.