NZ: Opposition calls for outright ban on grape imports
New Zealand Labour Party's biosecurity spokesman Damien O'Connor has called for all grape imports to be blocked, after spiders were found in recent table grape shipments from Mexico.
Since the detections were made, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has ordered all Mexican grapes to be withdrawn from retail shelves, and consignments in transit will have to either be fumigated or destroyed.
"There are strict controls in place for the importation of grapes from Mexico (and other countries). In the case of Mexico, grapes are visually inspected and if spiders or other pests are identified, there is a requirement for fumigation," MPI surveillance manager Brendan Gould said in a release.
"We take this matter very seriously and we are investigating how this breach has occurred and taking measures to tighten up the system.
"Importers of Mexican grapes that are in transit here are being given the option of treating or destroying them on arrival in New Zealand. Mexico’s exporting season for grapes has now finished for the year."
But the MPI's actions are not enough, according to O'Connor, who told Radio New Zealand grapes from all foreign sources should be banned until the government can give assurances the fruit is safe to eat and doesn't pose a threat to the wine industry.
"If the system fails to pick up a poisonous spider then it's not going to be able to pick up more subtle pests and diseases that could clearly threaten our economy as well as the consumers who come into contact with the products," O'Connor told the broadcaster.
His comments were echoed by New Zealand Wine Growers Association chief executive Philip Gregan.
"What we’re seeing is entry of insects into New Zealand that represent a biosecurity risk. And while in this case black widow spiders per se aren’t a big issue for the wine industry, our concern is obviously if black widow spiders can get in, so can other insects," Gregan told Radio New Zealand.
"We're a NZ$1.4 billion export industry now and the last thing that we can have happen is our industry being placed at risk by lax biosecurity, and you have to say in this instance, how on earth did these black widow spiders get through?"
Gregan said the sector was concerned about the potential entry of the glassy-winged sharpshooter from California, a vector for Pierce's disease which kills grape vines.
"Any time we see something coming out of North America, we immediately start thinking about Glassy-winged sharpshooter, and the potential risks to the industry if there was an entry of that insect into New Zealand," he told the broadcaster.
Radio New Zealand reported table grapes from California were suspended twice in 2001 after spiders were found in consignments, prompting a review of import standards and the implementation of pest control measures like fumigation and cold treatment. Gregan told the broadcaster the recent incident warrants another review.
"I think MPI needs to take a long, hard look at itself," he told the broadcaster.
This is not the first time O'Connor has called for tougher actions to tackle biosecurity threats. In April, he called for a ban on imports of fruit from high-risk areas after the second discovery of Queensland fruit fly in Whangarei.
"It seems pointless to set up a controlled area when we are still importing fruit from Australian states such as Queensland and New South Wales which are struggling to control fruit flies," O'Connor said at the time.