NZ: MPI releases thousands of seized fruit plants

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NZ: MPI releases thousands of seized fruit plants

The New Zealand apple and stonefruit industry members at the heart of the legal action against the Minister of Primary Industries (MPI) have welcomed the announcement that it will release more than 20,000 fruit plants from containment.

In June MPI seized plants from five nurseries as a precaution following a March audit which uncovered incomplete and incorrect record keeping at U.S. facility, Clean Plant Centre Northwest, from which they were imported.

MPI has formally advised the industry group members of its decision to release 20,000 apple plants and 400 stonefruit plants, along with proposed individual testing plans for stonefruit cultivars.

The communications confirm that tests conducted on all apple (Malus) plants have come back clear, with no signs of any pests or diseases detectable on the plant materials.

These plants have been effectively released from containment and industry members will be able to deal with them like any other trees in their orchards or nurseries.

Some stonefruit plants (Prunus) will remain in containment and is subject to further testing. Such testing will occur over the course of the 2018-19 summer. MPI says the testing program should be complete by June 2019.

Industry member and owner of McGrath Nurseries, Andy McGrath said: “We are encouraged by MPI’s announcement today and the release of the apple plants and plant materials. We feel this has vindicated the position we have taken since the very beginning of this issue.

“This is the first step towards rectifying the unlawful actions imposed by MPI, but there is still some way to go before orchardists and nurseries are able to return to normal commercial production."

He said MPI was being "overly strict" by keeping the remaining stonefruit plants in containment.

"We will be addressing this directly with MPI in a meeting later this week," he said.

“We recognise stonefruit have a different risk profile, but we are very optimistic that the tests will not reveal any cause for concern."

Reaccreditation for U.S.-based facility?

McGrath has recently returned from a visit to the U.S.-based Clean Plant Centre Northwest. The facility has supplied New Zealand orchards and nurseries with new plant varieties for over 30 years but recently had its accreditation withdrawn by MPI.

In McGrath's opinion, the CPCNW facility is willing to consider reaccreditation and provided encouraging comments regarding the required process.

A meeting between MPI and industry members to discuss the potential reaccreditation of the CPCNW facility is scheduled for later this week.

McGrath holds some hope that MPI may be able to take a "reasonable approach to discussions, repair their relationship with CPCNW, and set a clear plan in place towards reaccreditation."

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