MAF has commissioned an independent review of its its importing rules as part of ongoing work into how the kiwifruit vine disease Psa entered New Zealand.
Director General Wayne McNee says the review is a sensible step to ensure that MAF’s systems are as good as they can be and will be welcomed by the kiwifruit industry which had requested such an inquiry.
The review follows a series of investigations that MAF has undertaken since the outbreak of Psa in Bay of Plenty orchards.
He says in order to help the kiwifruit industry manage the disease’s spread, MAF has looked into a number of possible ways the bacterium could have entered New Zealand and has produced a report summarising the results of those investigations.
“The report does not identify a definite means of introduction, but does find there are a number of potential pathways, including people, equipment, and pollen.
It wasn’t known that pollen could carry Psa when rules were changed in 2007 to allow it to be imported.
MAF’s importing rules at the time of the Psa outbreak permitted imports of overseas kiwifruit pollen by the kiwifruit industry and others under strict conditions.
Any imported pollen had to have been sourced from unopened flowers to avoid any issues of bacterial contamination. At the time of granting pollen import permits, there was no internationally published science that indicated pollen was able to spread Psa.
“Given the new information that has emerged on the potential for pollen to spread the disease, I want to review our processes for assessing risk, and incorporating changing science. We still cannot categorically say that Psa in pollen can infect healthy vines – there’s more work to be done to prove that – so we still cannot definitively say that pollen was the way that Psa entered New Zealand,” Mr McNee says.
Imports of pollen were suspended at the time of the Psa outbreak.
The impact of PSA on the kiwifruit industry is as devastating as foot and mouth disease would be to livestock farming.
It is a reminder of how vulnerable agriculture and horticulture are and the importance of tough biosecurity rules.
Working out how Psa got here won’t help those affected but it could help prevent other incursions of pests and diseases.