The Whangarei fruit fly scare that threatened the country's $4 billion horticulture industry cost taxpayers almost $1.6 million, but it was money well spent to protect the important sector, the man in charge of the biosecurity operation says.
Up to 120 Ministry of Primary Industry and Quality Assure staff worked on the biosecurity threat in Whangarei after a single male Queensland fruit fly was found in a garden in the Riverside/Parihaka area, on January 21. The operation was finally declared over on February 8 after no more fruit flies were found following two weeks of trapping, fruit sampling and testing.
MPI Deputy Director-General, Compliance and Response, Andrew Coleman said the final cost of the operation was almost $1.6 million, but it was money well spent when weighed against the possibility of losing that $4 billion industry.
The costs included around $730,000 on service contracts, almost $700,000 on staff costs, including salaries, $115,000 on staff overtime, travel, and accommodation expenses and $67,000 on publicity.
Mr Coleman said some might balk at the costs, but it was vital that the country's crucial horticulture industry was protected. "The Queensland fruit fly is a huge threat, not only to those growing fruit and vegetables, but to their ability to export those products or even put them on the domestic market," he said. "The $1.6 million spent to protect that industry seems to be money very well spent and the industry itself will see this as worth it to allow them to continue to grow and trade."
Mr Coleman said the Whangarei community played a big part in the success of the biosecurity operation. During the scare MPI restrictions banned people from taking fresh fruit or vegetables, other than leafy and root varieties, out of the controlled area - 1.5km-diameter circle around the site where the fruit fly was found. Mr Coleman said the restrictions were precautionary while MPI carried out intensive checks for any further flies. Had a population been found, the controls in place would have prevented any spread of the pest out of the area.
"(Whangarei) community help was vital. Queensland fruit fly is a major pest of a wide range of crops. Had this pest become established in New Zealand, it would have had serious consequences for our home gardeners, horticultural growers and the wider New Zealand economy."