Imported apple and stone fruit material

Find out what we're doing to help protect New Zealand from a potential risk from some imported plant material.

UPDATE – 25 SEPTEMBER 2018

Apple plants and some stonefruit plants released

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has completed additional testing for pests and diseases of concern on the affected apple plants and a small number of stonefruit plants.

As all the test results were negative and we are satisfied the biosecurity risk has been minimised, around 20,000 apple plants and 400 stonefruit plants have now been released from all restrictions.

Nearly 20,000 stonefruit plants require further testing over spring and summer when diseases of concern will be most evident if they are present.

Unacceptable biosecurity risk

Young fruit plants growing on a property.
Affected plants seized.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is taking action to protect New Zealand from potential biosecurity risk after an audit found significant failures at an overseas facility screening apple and stone fruit cuttings.

We cannot be certain that affected plant material, imported since June 2012, is free of pests and diseases of concern, and that's an unacceptable biosecurity risk.

Some pests and diseases can remain dormant for a number of years.

Pests and diseases can have a profound impact on New Zealand's horticultural industry and we cannot afford to take shortcuts in protecting against them.

 

Background

Before nursery stock is imported into New Zealand it must comply with requirements that are set out in an Import Health Standard (IHS). This ensures that imported plants are free of pests and diseases that are not present in New Zealand.

MPI audit

A routine audit in March 2018 found a number of critical non-compliances at the Clean Plant Centre Northwest at Washington State University in the USA.

The audit showed we can have little confidence in the testing carried out by the facility. There were a number of failures to undertake the required testing, as well as incorrect reporting of results, and missing records. Two tests were recorded as negative (Hop stunt viroid and Apple stem grooving virus), but later recorded as positive, yet MPI was not informed.

At MPI's request, US authorities conducted an investigation which has since confirmed these findings. There was a systemic breakdown in the facility's systems and failure to undertake the testing required to show that the plant material is free from pests and diseases of concern.

Following the steps New Zealand has taken, Australia has also suspended the facility's status as an approved source of stone fruit material.

Risk to New Zealand

This has a potential biosecurity risk for high-value crops - Malus (apples) and Prunus (stone fruit including peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, and cherries). Other crops may also be affected if any pests or diseases establish in New Zealand.

The pests or diseases considered to have the greatest potential impact are:

What's being done?

Managing biosecurity risk is MPI's top priority. We immediately stopped imports from this facility and suspended its accreditation.

We have seized the affected plant material (under the Biosecurity Act) at 50 locations in Hawke's Bay, Waikato, Nelson, and central Otago. In total, 32 nurseries, importers, and growers are affected.

MPI has been working closely with nurseries, importers, growers and industry to get to a position where the value and significance of this plant material is recognised, but where biosecurity protection comes first.

Testing samples in New Zealand

We have tested samples held in the MPI Plant Health and Environment Laboratory (PHEL) in Auckland. This included testing for some of the highest biosecurity risk organisms such as Xylella fastidiosa.

One plum cultivar has shown a preliminary finding for cherry leaf roll virus (red raspberry strain), but the biosecurity risk is low. This is an unregulated strain that is already in New Zealand fruit (apple, kiwifruit, currant, raspberry, and blueberry).

While this is not a concerning result, it is an example of a disease the US screening facility should have detected.

This testing does not cover all the required testing for pests and diseases of concern. Further testing will be needed over spring and summer seasons.

Destruction or containment

MPI has completed a thorough technical analysis on whether it is possible to retain rather than destroy the plant material.

We have concluded industry can keep priority plant material as long as it's properly contained while we determine if it can be tested for diseases so it may be released in the future.

Apple plant material

Nurseries and importers can contain the affected apple plant material (around 21,000 plants and small trees) at existing sites under specific requirements. This will include access restrictions, no movement of plant material, and regular monitoring for any signs of disease.

MPI is confident that the testing recently carried out in New Zealand on some of the affected apple plant material confirms there are no major pests or diseases of concern. However, further testing is required for lower-risk pests and diseases.

Stone fruit plant material

For affected stone fruit plant material (around 26,500 plants and small trees), the biosecurity risk and containment requirements are higher. Further testing is required to rule out pests or diseases of concern.

Nurseries and importers will be able to select a small number of cuttings and potted plants from stonefruit varieties to retain in the appropriate level of containment facility. Stonefruit plant material which cannot be contained will need to be destroyed.

Next steps

MPI will be supervising the containment process and also the steps required to properly destroy the plant material.

It must be either contained or destroyed before the onset of spring. Currently, plants and pests are not as active and the risk of spreading potential pests and diseases is at a minimum.

MPI will consider claims for the direct cost of lost plant material.

Who to contact

If you have any questions, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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