The Ministry for Primary Industries, facing compensation claims for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars around various biosecurity issues, has just added the apple and stonefruit sector to its list of potential claimants.
MPI, in a written statement issued after High Court interim orders expired around a legal challenge by fruit growers to the ministry's destruction/containment order for 48,000 apple and stonefruit plants, said it was "open to receiving modest reimbursement claims for some direct and verifiable losses incurred as a result of destroyed or contained plant material".
The Government, through MPI, is already subject to up to $800 million of projected claims from dairy and beef cattle farmers for compensation under the Biosecurity Act for losses incurred by its containment and mass kill response to a Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease incursion. Stewart Island oyster farmers have compensation claims of up to $100m lodged after a MPI mass destruction order.
The Herald understands MPI has at least 15 biosecurity challenges on its plate.
The latest claim on taxpayer money from biosecurity issues started when MPI issued a directive to 32 apple and stonefruit industry participants in Hawke's Bay, Waikato, Nelson and Central Otago to destroy or contain 48,000 plants imported from a long-time Washington State University-based quarantine facility provider to the New Zealand fruit-growing industry.
A group representing apple and stonefruit growers and other fruit industry participants challenged the directive last month, seeking a High Court judicial review.
The group claimed the directive would cost the industry up to $500m in lost income and would set its innovation progress back by 15 years. Meanwhile, it said, plants and plant material were dying because they could not be planted or used and many plants had been destroyed.
The High Court found the legal route taken by MPI to make the containment/destruction order was unlawful, but noted the thoroughness of MPI's investigations. The court recommended the parties negotiate a solution - a finding which MPI sought a time extension for, which has now expired.
The MPI statement said the ministry remained concerned at the potential biosecurity risk associated with the imported plant material.
"We've now issued new notices under a different section of the Biosecurity Act so we can continue to manage potential risk through containment and a spraying and netting programme while we work through a testing plan with each owner," the statement said.
"If no pests or diseases of concern are found then the plant material will be able to be released in the future.
"MPI remains open to receiving modest reimbursement claims for some direct and verifiable losses incurred as a result of destroyed or contained plant material."
The sector group challenging MPI's directive has been approached for comment.