12 May 2012

Fruit fly discovery prompts exclusion zone

5:29 pm on 12 May 2012

Residents have been banned from taking fruit and vegetables out of part of an Auckland suburb and businesses are making contingency plans following the discovery of a destructive fruit fly.

A single Queensland fruit fly - considered Australia's most serious horticulture pest species - was found in a trap in Avondale on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Primary Industries on Friday imposed controls on moving fruit and vegetables in part of the suburb, affecting more than 4000 properties.

Whole fresh fruit and vegetables cannot be moved outside an area with a 1.5 kilometre radius centred on Wolverton Road.

In a smaller inner zone, within a circle 200 metres out from the initial find, whole fruit and vegetables cannot be moved off properties at all.

Residents in the exclusion zone are also being asked to dispose of their fruit and vegetables in a sink disposal unit, or in special bins that will be provided by the ministry.

It is likely the restrictions will be in place for at least two weeks.

Biosecurity inspectors are combing the Avondale area, checking old traps and installing new ones, to determine how many of the flies are in the country. Auckland mayor Len Brown says six council biosecurity officers are helping.

Tomato firm expects to be affected

The general manager of Mangere-based Status Produce, Colin Lyford, says although his company is outside the exclusion zone it expects to be affected.

"We've got contingency plans to be able to grade and pack our tomatoes at other facilities," he says, "so that we would be able to maintain supply to our customers domestically - but it would take a little bit of reorganising."

Mr Lyford says the discovery of the fly could prevent the company from exporting to Australia, its biggest export market.

Growers hoping it's just one fly

Horticulture New Zealand says the pest is regarded as the biggest threat to the $4 billion fruit and vegetable export industry, because of the damage it can do to a wide range of produce and the potential disruption to trade.

Chief executive Peter Silcock says growers are very concerned by the find, which has occurred in the middle of the fruit export season.

"We're rolling with the punches at this stage," he says. "Everyone's hoping that this is just one fly, in one trap."

Growers are still suffering from other incursions, such as the vine canker in kiwifruit and psyllid insects affecting tomatoes and potatoes.

The discovery of Mediterranean fruit fly in the 1990s cost the government $10 million, Mr Silcock says, and pushed up screening costs industry as well as restricting access to some export markets for a time. China blocked some New Zealand horticulture exports for about a year, he says.

Labour calls for reversal of screening cuts

Government ministers are coming under renewed pressure to halt further changes to the country's biosecurity system in the light of the fruit-fly discovery.

Cabinet papers obtained by Radio New Zealand propose less screening of incoming passengers.

Labour's biosecurity spokesperson, Damien O'Connor, says the fly find is clear evidence that the biosecurity system at the border isn't working properly.

"This is potentially disastrous," Mr O'Connor says. "This find of the fruit fly identifies the reality that things are getting through and we're only one fly away from disaster in terms of horticulture - and agriculture of course as well.

"And now we've seen cuts at the very time when the world's focussed on food security. We should be increasing the resources in this very vital area of activity."

Primary Industries Minister David Carter says the Government won't compromise biosecurity controls.

Ministry spokesperson Andrew Coleman says the ministry has spoken to about 15 of the main importers of New Zealand fruit, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea, and there has been no indication so far of changes in trading practices.