Science Media Centre posts expert comment on those pesky Asian stink bugs

Not in our orchards, if we remain vigilant…

As we have reported (here, here and here) several car shipments were turned away at the border last month because they were infested with Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs.

The bug has spread across the globe from its original home in East Asia and is one of border security’s most wanted.

The agricultural pest is not currently in the country, the Science Media Centre notes in a press release today. But the Ministry for Primary Industries has been asking the public to keep an eye out for the distinctive critter, which is much larger than our native stink bugs.

Biosecurity experts are worried about the impact it might have on both native plants and agricultural exports.

To help inform us about this invasive pest, the Science Media Centre sought answers to a raft of questions from biosecurity experts.

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Biosecurity Minister is further questioned about stink bugs from Japan

Damien O’Connor … committed to keeping  out the brown marmorated stink bug.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was questioned in Parliament this week about assurances he had given  last week about stink bugs. He had said no vehicles were unloaded off ships carrying brown marmorated stink bugs from Japan recently.

But National’s Nathan Guy challenged him, saying around half the vehicles were unloaded from the Courageous Ace before loading was halted. Those cars, trucks, and buses sat on the wharf for several days before being reloaded back on to the vessel.

In reply, Mr O’Connor said he had been informed none had been unloaded.

“I will follow up on that.

“The important thing to know here — regardless of the actions that took place —is that we are absolutely committed to keeping out the brown marmorated stink bug, something that that member failed to do because he failed to resource the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and their biosecurity responsibilities properly.”

Mr Guy wasn’t finished and called for the Minister to explain how he could say the biosecurity net is working well when, in November last year, “15 live stink bugs — nine of them female — went on a 1,000-kilometre road trip to Christchurch having already passed MPI’s inspection in Auckland?”

Mr O’Connor conceded this had happened but said the biosecurity system taken over by the Labour-New Zealand First Government “had huge holes in it”.

As those holes have been discovered “we have moved immediately to shut them down”.

Very few of the 1,200 import health standards that the previous Minister was responsible for had been reviewed and upgraded.

“That’s why we are having to move through every part of the biosecurity system to give security to those New Zealand producers in the country—because we desperately need them.”

Next, Mr Guy noted the Minister had said “We cannot afford to let … in [stink bugs] and we will shut down the pathways [whenever] we find them.” He asked how this could be reconciled with large construction equipment being left on the wharf for days prior to it being eventually fumigated.

Mr O’Connor replied:

“Once again, I can’t explain the protocols and systems left to us by the previous Government. But I can tell you that we’re working through every one of those, and every member of the biosecurity system in this country knows that they’ve got a new Government with a new focus on biosecurity; they don’t have the same lazy old lax one that they had in the past.”

Finally, Mr Guy asked if the Minister has requested new urgent funding for extra resources in Japan after stating that his ministry does not have enough people offshore to inspect every vehicle; if not, why not?

Mr O’Connor replied “we don’t have enough people to inspect every single car being loaded on to a ship, but I can tell you that the protocols around that will be upgraded and offer us security that was never there under the hundreds of thousands of cars that that member let into this country.”

Tests confirm Mycoplasma bovis on Ashburton farm

The bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis has been identified on a farm in the Ashburton area.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ response incident controller, David Yard, says milk sampling carried out by the dairy industry just before Christmas revealed a suspected positive result. The ministry’s Animal Health Laboratory testing has just confirmed this.

“The affected farm and an associated property have been under controls since Christmas Eve as a precautionary measure. No animals or other risk goods such as used farm equipment have been allowed on or off the property during this time and these controls stand,” Mr Yard says.

There has been no sign of any illness in any of the approximately 600 animals on the property.

Mr Yard says that as a result of the new find, the ministry is tracing animal movements on and off the farm to determine if there are links to other affected properties. 

The ministry will carry out checks and testing on some 30 other farms that have had some association with the affected property.

Tests are being conducted on another Ashburton area farm that had previously returned inconclusive results. As yet, this farm is not regarded as positive, although it is under control as a precaution.

The current number of infected properties now stands at 14:

* 9 in South Canterbury
* 3 in Southland
* 1 in Ashburton
* 1 in Hawkes Bay.

Manuka Health welcomes efforts to authenticate New Zealand Manuka honey

Manuka Health has welcomed New Zealand’s new official Manuka honey definition.

The finalised scientific definition released by the Ministry for Primary Industries specifies a set of five science-based markers which identify the origin of Manuka honey.

These markers need to be present for the product to be called New Zealand Manuka honey.

Depending on the minimum level of one of the new markers, phenyllactic acid (3-PLA), the honey will be defined as monofloral or multifloral Manuka honey. Only honey that meets the new standard will be certified for export as New Zealand Manuka honey.

Manuka Health supports the Government’s efforts to protect authentic Manuka honey producers from imitation and tampering.

John Kippenberger, Manuka Health’s chief executive, said:

“It’s critical that New Zealand protects Manuka honey on the global market, where we see increasing adulteration and false claims of this highly valued product.

“New Zealand is the only source of authentic Manuka honey and we have needed a clearer scientific definition that delineates genuine, premium product from the fakes.

“MPI’s work is another step to safeguard the value of New Zealand Manuka honey. They have addressed some of the industry concerns and tightened some of the parameters; while we hoped that more feedback from the consultation period with industry would be included in MPI’s finalised definition, we believe that this is a good start to protect our industry.”

A target set by the government and industry is to grow the value of New Zealand Manuka honey to $1.2 billion a year by 2028.

Mr Kippenberger said the definition was important for customers around the world.

“It reassures them that New Zealand-exported Manuka honey is genuine.”

Authentication is the first step in classifying Manuka honey by its New Zealand origin. In addition, the rating of Manuka honey is an important guide for consumers and methylglyoxal (MGO) remains the lead, internationally recognised and scientifically researched component linked to the potency and grading of Manuka honey.

MPI receives application for new strain of rabbit virus

The Ministry for Primary Industries has received an application to approve the use of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease RHDV1 –K5 for pest rabbit management.

RHDV (Czech strain) already exists in New Zealand, after it was introduced in 1997. This 2017 application is for a Korean strain that isn’t currently found here.

The ministry has notified the application under the Agricultural Compound Veterinary and Medicines Act and will consider any submissions before making a decision on the data that have been submitted in support of the registration.

The consultation closes on December 14.

The ministry will consider benefits of the release to the agricultural sector, as well as identification and management of risks to animal welfare, agricultural impacts, trade and public health matters associated with the virus. This will include consideration of the risks posed to non-target animals such as pet rabbits.

“The strain of RHDV that already exists in New Zealand has a vaccine which is being used to protect against the new strain in other countries,” says Allan Kinsella, the ministry’s Director Systems Audit, Assurance and Monitoring.

“As part of MPI’s assessment we will be considering evidence of protection against the new strain.”

Any new strain that is released, propagated, and sold also needs to be approved under the Biosecurity Act.

RHDV1-K5 strain will be approved only if it meets the requirements under the Agricultural Compound Veterinary and Medicines Act and Biosecurity Acts.

The Canterbury Regional Council has made the application. The intent is to introduce the strain nationally.


Fencing of waterways an effective tool to combat pollution

Fencing of waterways has proven very effective where it has been used to combat the risks of contamination from agriculture, AgResearch says.

AgResearch’s Professor Rich McDowell, the chief scientist for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, was speaking after the publication of a study looking at policies for fencing waterways on contamination loads in New Zealand waterways.

His paper was published in the American Journal of Environmental Quality.

The Ministry for the Environment’s Our Freshwater 2017 report indicates that urban waterways have the worst overall water quality in New Zealand, but much of the public focus in recent years has been on the impact of agriculture – particularly dairy farming – on waterways in rural areas.

“Fencing is very effective at reducing contaminant loads to waterways – by 10 to 90 per cent depending on the nature of the contaminants and local issues,” Prof McDowell says.

“Fencing works especially well for the likes of E. coli or phosphorus contamination that can result from animal wasteor stream bank destabilisation. However, fencing all waterways in New Zealand is impractical and in some places other good management practices may be more cost-effective.”

“A combination of better awareness of the issues and the use of good management practices (including fencing) in the right place is starting to reverse degrading trends in the likes of phosphorus and sediment in the water over the last decade,” Prof McDowell says.

Dairy farmers had invested in a major programme of fencing waterways to the equivalent of nearly 27,000km. They should continue to do so as it is effective at reducing waterway contamination, Prof McDowell says.

“The fact that most of the contaminant load comes from areas not requiring fencing reflects the much greater number and areas occupied by small streams – potentially from steeper country where dairy farming is unlikely to be present. Other work also indicates that a substantial proportion of contaminant concentrations may be from natural sources.”

AgResearch Research Director Greg Murison says there is a big focus by his own organisation and others, including DairyNZ, to support farmers in developing management practices that reduce the risk of water contamination.

“The number of science programmes looking at these issues demonstrates how scientists are being responsive to what is important to New Zealanders.”

You can read the study HERE.

First new myrtle rust find of the spring is made in Waikato region

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has found a new area infected with the fungal plant disease myrtle rust.

The fungus has been found on two properties in the Otorohanga township – in both cases on a single ramarama tree. These finds are new positive detections of myrtle rust outside of the known established areas in Taranaki and Te Puke.

The ministry’s myrtle rust response incident controller, Dr Catherine Duthie, says the two properties have no  connection with nurseries or other infected properties in Taranaki.  It would appear these are infections that have occurred by wind dispersal from Australia, like the infections in other regions.

“We located these infected plants through our ongoing checks of areas that we’d identified as at-risk due to prevailing wind direction, the presence of host species and climate.

“Along with the Department of Conservation, we’ve been carrying out surveillance for the disease throughout the winter, even though myrtle rust is generally inactive in colder weather and the symptoms are less obvious.

“We had known that a reappearance of obvious myrtle rust symptoms was likely in spring – so while this is disappointing, it’s not unexpected,” Dr Duthie says.

The two properties are being placed under legal restrictions to stop any movement of plant material off the sites. MPI will  remove and destroy the two affected plants within the next few days.

Teams will then be in the area checking all myrtle plants in a 500 metre radius from the two finds. This could take up to a fortnight.

MPI is continuing  to encourage people to check myrtle species plants – for example, pohutukawa, ramarama, mānuka, feijoa, and bottlebrush.