A range of New Zealand nurseries and orchards could lose up to a potential NZD1.5 billion (US$1 billion) due to an order given by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to destroy or contain 48,000 seedlings.
The companies have gone to the High Court to revoke the order, which was given due to an inadequate or contradictory information from a U.S. facility that meant the material’s biosecurity status could not be guaranteed.
The case affects apples, cherries, apricots and other types of fruits, according to local media Radio NZ.
An audit in March found incomplete and incorrect record-keeping at a U.S. company, which led MPI to halt all imports from the company and begin seizing plants from five nurseries and a small number of growers.
The cuttings, which were imported from 2012 to 2017, are said to have been caught up in a bureaucratic error. Even though MPI agrees there is no evidence of bugs or other biosecurity dangers, they say they had to seize the seedlings as a precautionary measure.
“It’s been through a really rigorous quarantine process in the U.S. for about three years and then another two years in New Zealand,” Matthew Dolan, chief executive at New Zealand Plant Producers, was quoted as saying.
“There have been a lot of eyes looking at this material. There is no real concern about its biosecurity status – it really about the documentation and record keeping relating to importation of the material.”
As the plant material would be propagated into thousands of fruit trees in the future, the value of losses would grow over time, said Dolan.
The seedlings represented new varieties of fruit, and so 10 years of breeding work could be wasted, he said.
Grant Pearson, a lawyer acting for the Waimea Nurseries, one of the companies affected, said that nurseries and orchards face a NZD$1.5 billion loss. The amount covers future as well as past losses.