25 Sep 2013

Fungus that rots apples puts China exports on hold

11:48 pm on 25 September 2013

Apple exports to China have been voluntarily suspended after the discovery of a fungus causing post harvest rot in three consignments.

Chinese officials found the fungus neofabraea alba on New Zealand apples, worth $135,000, in early September and alerted officials.

The Ministry for Primary Industries says it has been working with the apple industry to identify where the apples concerned came from.

The ministry says Chinese authorities requested exports be suspended from some production sites and pack houses in Hawke's Bay.

Pipfruit New Zealand says growers responded by voluntarily suspending the exports of all apples from New Zealand to China.

It says the apples were traced back to a small number of Hawke's Bay orchards.

Pipfruit New Zealand says China is a relatively small but growing market for this country, worth $15 million out of total worldwide exports of $400 million.

The pipfruit season is all but over, with just a few containers still on the water bound for export markets.

Impact small - MPI

The ministry says the suspension will have a very small impact on the pipfruit industry.

Its manager of import and export, plants, Stephen Butcher, says the fungus is not a food safety issue and has happened at a good time, right at the end of the apple exporting season.

Mr Butcher says New Zealand has had the fungus for the past century but it is not present in China.

"It affected a very small proportion of the apples that are actually going into China ... and it's been good because we've got an opportunity to look at the management plans for next season."

Associate Minister for Primary Industries Jo Goodhew says the pipfruit industry's response has reinforced the trust the Chinese have in New Zealand.

Ms Goodhew says the fact that the industry has voluntarily suspended all apple exports to China has reinforced to the Chinese that New Zealand is taking the matter seriously.

She says the Chinese customs authority has agreed to check any consignments that are in transit and approve them if there is no sign of rot.

Ms Goodhew says the Chinese agency responsible for biosecurity, AQSIQ, seems satisfied with the industry's response.