NZ: Kiwifruit Claim wins negligence case against government

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NZ: Kiwifruit Claim wins negligence case against government

The New Zealand High Court has found that the Ministry of Primary Industries was negligent in allowing the deadly Psa disease into the country in 2009, in what is being hailed as a "landmark decision."

The court also ruled that that MPI owed a duty of care to kiwifruit growers when carrying out its biosecurity functions, which Kiwifruit Claim chairman John Cameron described as "hugely significant for the kiwifruit industry and other primary industries." 

The entry of the kiwifruit vine disease had a devastating impact on the kiwifruit industry and resulted in many growers losing their entire orchards, and this class-action lawsuit had sought compensation for the losses.

"We completely agree with the Judge when she says that the wrong to the 212 kiwifruit growers should be remedied," he said.

"We’ve waited a long time for this day, and we are absolutely thrilled that the Court has held that MPI owed a duty of care and breached that duty when it allowed PSA to enter New Zealand in 2009.

"We hope that this significant decision draws a line in the sand for what has been a long and difficult 8 years for growers who could not have brought this action without the support of LPF Group."

The court will now decide what level of compensation should be paid to the growers. The New Zealand government is able to appeal the decision.

In a press conference announcing the decision, Kiwifruit Claim committee member said Grant Eynon it was estimated losses of NZ$450 million were incurred as a direct result of the Psa incursion.

In a statement, MPI said it is "carefully considering the court's findings and implications for current and future biosecurity activities."

"The 500-page document traverses events dating back 12 years, pre-dating the establishment of MPI, and requires a thorough examination. We cannot rush this process," it said.

"Once we have completed consideration of the judgment, a decision will be made on whether to appeal. That decision must be made by the Solicitor-General, not MPI."

Cameron last year told Fresh Fruit Portal Psa entered New Zealand in 2009 in a 4.5kg shipment of pollen from China, and that MPS failed to follow its own protocols in its handling of an import permit for pollen from the Asian country.

In his statement today, Cameron highlighted that MPS is the only agency in the country with the mandate to manage biosecurity risks.

“MPI knew for many years that PSA was a significant risk to the kiwifruit industry, and if it had done its job properly and followed its own regulations and protocols under the Biosecurity Act, the PSA incursion would not have happened," he said.

“PSA decimated the kiwifruit industry and its impact was far reaching, not only on growers and their individual orchards, but on the New Zealand economy.  

“We’ve had to fight a really hard and expensive battle to get this decision.  Some growers lost everything when PSA hit, their orchards and businesses, their life savings, and for many, the financial and emotional impact is ongoing."

He added the even for those that were able to survive, some suffered a complete loss of income for several years, taking on huge debts to replant their orchards. 

“We hope that the Government accepts the Judge’s decision and that kiwifruit claim growers can finally be properly compensated for their losses. We look forward to working cooperatively with the Government to achieve this," he said.

Related stories: Psa pain ongoing for NZ kiwifruit industry

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