The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is taking precautionary action to protect New Zealand from potential biosecurity risk by ordering the seizure of plant material at 5 affected apple and stone fruit nurseries across the country.
The move follows an MPI audit in March which uncovered incomplete and incorrect record keeping at United States (US) facility, Clean Plant Centre Northwest – Fruit Trees. This facility is responsible for screening apple and stone fruit plant cuttings before they are imported, says MPI response manager John Brightwell.
"As a result of our audit, MPI put an immediate stop to imports from this facility, and we stood up an investigation to trace all known consignments which were imported to New Zealand from 2013 onwards.
"Around 55,000 plants have been traced, including budwood and commercial trees. Today, the 5 affected nurseries and a small number of growers will be instructed to seize and hold this material.
"There is no evidence at this stage that any of the material is infected with pests or diseases of concern, but MPI is taking a precautionary approach.
"We have worked closely with the affected nurseries, growers, and horticulture industry throughout this process, and we are grateful for their help.
"While we appreciate these restrictions will have an impact on nurseries and growers, we have to take action to deal with potential risks to maintain our biosecurity system and to protect our horticultural industry from potential biosecurity risks.
"We are working with the affected nurseries and growers, along with industry representatives, to decide on the next steps and the best way to manage the affected plant material.
"Managing biosecurity risk is our top priority, but we will also be working with the affected nurseries, growers and with industry, to retain the highest value material if it is possible to do so. However, it is likely that many of the imported cultivars will need to be destroyed.
"MPI is also working with US authorities to gather further information on the health status of the 'mother plants' from which the imported material was derived.
"US authorities have treated the matter seriously, and are conducting their own investigation into how this occurred, and they are working closely with MPI to address issues raised by the audit.
"We believe this is an isolated case, but to provide additional assurances, MPI will be reviewing our auditing processes of all offshore facilities to ensure they are fit for purpose. It is our understanding that New Zealand is the only country that audits this type of offshore facility.
"Our actions demonstrate how seriously we take our biosecurity and the high expectations we have of assurances provided by our overseas trading partners."
International trade is facilitated through official assurances from government to government – in this case from the USA to New Zealand – that exports are safe and free from pests and disease.
As an extra layer of protection against biosecurity threats, MPI conducted its own audits of the facility in 2006, 2011, and 2018.
The facility is 1 of 4 accredited by MPI to conduct offshore disease screening of apple and stone fruit cuttings for regulated pests for New Zealand.