3 Oct 2014

Industry players against court action

8:31 am on 3 October 2014

The push to get kiwifruit growers to sign up to a group intending to sue the Government over the Psa outbreak has run into opposition from two major players in the industry.

kiwifruit on vines

Photo: PHOTO NZ

Kiwifruit marketer Zespri and the largest post-harvest operator, Eastpack, have written to growers saying they do not support the group called The Kiwifruit Claim that allege biosecurity officials were negligent in allowing Psa-contaminated pollen from China into New Zealand in 2009.

The class action suit seeks compensation for the effects of the vine-killing disease which cost the country in excess of $885 million, according to a report commissioned by the Government. Many growers were financially ruined by the outbreak in 2010, with some losing their entire orchards or forced to undergo mortgagee sales.

But Eastpack chairman Ray Sharp says the court action has the potential to adversely affect Government and public attitudes which could prejudice the kiwifruit industry structure and damage New Zealand's export earnings growth.

Zespri chairman Peter McBride agrees, saying the last thing the industry needs is a hugely-expensive, divisive and long drawn-out legal battle.

"This campaign started in the media, there was no notice to the industry, the industry wasn't consulted on the issues, and growers are being asked to sign documents that they don't understand the ramifications of," he said.

"I was personally affected really badly, so was my family - it was tough. This doesn't actually fix that, like dealing with the grief part of it, I think most people have dealt with that now.

"Now trying to apportion blame - it's the wrong solution. I think the right solution is working with the Government and creating value in the industry."

However, the group behind the legal challenge says support is growing fast, and more than 20 percent of gold kiwifruit growers have now pledged to join The Kiwifruit Claim. Chairman John Cameron said the speed with which growers were signing up is "staggering".

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