New Zealand growers say that if the government does not release plant material it recently quarantined due to an administrative mishap, the repercussions on the country’s fruit industry could be severe.
In early June the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) ordered 32 nurseries and growers to contain or destroy a combined total of approximately 48,000 apple and stonefruit trees on the basis that their phytosanitary status could not be confirmed.
Many of those trees had already been sold and were ready to be shipped.
The affected plants had either been imported into New Zealand from the U.S.-based Clean Plant Center Northwest (CPCNW) – a quarantine facility based at Washington State University – between 2012 and 2017, or they were derived from plants imported during this time.
They included new varieties which had been demonstrated pest and disease resistance.
Fresh Fruit Portal spoke with some of the affected people, who gave further details about the situation and the potential consequences for the fruit industry.
“If the affected material is not released from containment, MPI’s actions will have set the industry back up to 10-15 years in terms of innovation and will jeopardize New Zealand’s reputation as an innovative fruit grower,” said Paul Paynter, CEO of The Yummy Fruit Company (part of Johnny Appleseed Holdings Limited).
Andy McGrath of McGrath Nurseries Limited said that if all of the affected trees have to be destroyed, it would result in losses of [NZ]$300 – 550 million (US$204 – 374 million).
All the material which was imported into New Zealand was tested by MPI during Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) and met MPI’s requirements, they say.
Fallout with CPCNW
One major consequence of the situation is the detrimental impact it has had on the country’s relationship with the U.S. facility
“Following the audit, MPI suspended the CPCNW’s accreditation, with the result that we are currently unable to import innovative new varieties into New Zealand to future-proof our industry and to maintain a globally competitive industry position”, said Kerry Sixtus owner of Pattullo’s Nurseries Limited.
“In response, CPCNW has publicly stated that it will not be seeking reaccreditation from MPI. CPCNW is considered to be one of the leading plant research facilities in the world, providing clean plant material to fruit growers all around the globe.
“It has been supplying plant materials and new fruit varieties to New Zealand orchardists and nurseries for over 30 years.”
Sixtus highlighted that its plant varieties form the basis of New Zealand’s stonefruit orchards.
The loss of the CPCNW import pipeline is expected to be felt by more than just the apple and stonefruit industry. It may also hinder on innovation for the grape, hop, and strawberry industries.
“We are actively encouraging MPI to rebuild this relationship and enter into discussions with CPCNW regarding re-accreditation,” said McGrath.
“MPI has suggested that we import material through other channels such as Canada or France, but they have yet to publish its audit reports in respect of these facilities and have not indicated whether it will issue import permits to enable us to import plant materials from these facilities.”
Further legal issues
When the situation first arose, affected owners started judicial review proceedings in the High Court, which later ruled that MPI’s directions were unlawful. However, on Sept. 4 the MPI issued new but similar directions under the Biosecurity Act 1993.
“MPI’s new directions are almost identical to its first directions, the only difference being that they were issued under a different provision”, said Sixtus.
Despite the High Court ruling asking MPI to work with the affected companies to find a compromise, McGrath said draft plan “lacks important details and it does not currently provide for material to be released from containment following the completion of further testing.”
“We are taking time to carefully review the new directions and to consider and consult with MPI in respect of its draft testing plan” he added. “[But] we have told MPI that we reserve our rights to take legal action in relation to the new directions, if necessary.”