Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Illegal kiwifruit pulled out ... a year later

The kiwifruit has already been hit by the Psa virus. Photo / Thinkstock
The kiwifruit has already been hit by the Psa virus. Photo / Thinkstock

Kiwifruit growers are concerned that a Government agency appears to have waited for a year before acting against possibly-diseased illegal vines - and acted only once another agency became involved.

Last night, the Ministry for Primary Industries said it had begun to remove and destroy kiwifruit in suburban Auckland that appears to have grown from seed imported illegally.

The seeds were not detected when they were imported from China in 1997, and are believed to have been growing since 1999.

Weekend Herald enquiries have revealed that MPI has been aware of the vines since July last year.

Yesterday's action came only after Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH), the industry agency which combats biosecurity risks, became aware of the vines on Wednesday and requested urgent action from MPI.

The delay in action will spook a $1.5 billion-a-year industry that is still feeling the devastating effect of Psa.

Kiwifruit canker, or Psa, spread to more than 1000 orchards, and the long-term cost of the infestation has been put at up to $885 million.

An independent review into Psa found biosecurity shortcomings before the discovery of the bacterial disease in Te Puke.

When asked about the time MPI had been aware of the Auckland vines, KVH chairman Peter Ombler said: "We are very concerned, especially in the wake of Psa, that we are very much on top of these situations."

Mr Ombler said Zespri had alerted his organisation to the vines. It had been offered some fruit to market, and had contacted the ministry.

"We are very hopeful that any risk presented to us is relatively low. I wouldn't say it is nil, but it is low.

"Once we were alerted to this situation in the middle of the week we have worked with MPI to ensure the situation has been dealt with."

MPI response manager Katherine Clift said the ministry was told the seeds were brought into New Zealand with a container of household goods in 1997. They were not declared and not detected.

Testing last year ruled out the presence of any serious disease-causing organisms.

MPI assessed the plants as being a low risk to the kiwifruit industry, and further testing and monitoring did not alter that view.

"In addition, the plants are at a location removed from key kiwifruit growing areas and the owner has stated that no plant material has been moved from the property."

A Zespri spokeswoman said company staff met the grower in June last year. The grower was told import documents would have to be seen, and referred the grower to MPI.

Asked if the delay in removing the plants was concerning, a spokesman for Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said MPI was removing the vines as a precautionary measure, "which is the right thing to do".

- NZ Herald

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