MPI takes precautionary action to seize US apple and stone fruit plant material

The Ministry for Primary Industries is taking precautionary action to protect New Zealand from potential biosecurity risk by ordering the seizure of plant material at five affected apple and stone fruit nurseries across the country.

The move follows a ministry audit in March which uncovered incomplete and incorrect record keeping at a US facility, Clean Plant Centre Northwest – Fruit Trees. This facility is responsible for screening apple and stone fruit plant cuttings before they are imported, says ministry response manager John Brightwell.

As a result of the audit, the ministry imposed an immediate stop to imports from this facility and launched an investigation to trace all known consignments which were imported to New Zealand from 2013 onwards.

Approximately 55,000 plants have been traced, including budwood and commercial trees.

“Today, the five affected nurseries and a small number of growers will be instructed to seize and hold this material,” Mr Brightwell said.

“There is no evidence at this stage that any of the material is infected with pests or diseases of concern, but MPI is taking a precautionary approach.

“We have worked closely with the affected nurseries, growers, and horticulture industry throughout this process, and we are grateful for their help.”

Mr Brightwell acknowledged these restrictions will have an impact on nurseries and growers but said action must be taken to deal with potential biosecurity risks and protect the horticultural industry.

“We are working with the affected nurseries and growers, along with industry representatives, to decide on the next steps and the best way to manage the affected plant material,” he said.

“Managing biosecurity risk is our top priority, but we will also be working with the affected nurseries, growers and with industry, to retain the highest value material if it is possible to do so.”

But it likely that many of the imported cultivars would need to be destroyed, Mr Brightwell said.

The ministry is also working with US authorities to gather further information on the health status of the ‘mother plants’ from which the imported material was derived.

“US authorities have treated the matter seriously, and are conducting their own investigation into how this occurred, and they are working closely with MPI to address issues raised by the audit,” Mr Brightwell said.

“We believe this is an isolated case, but to provide additional assurances, MPI will be reviewing our auditing processes of all offshore facilities to ensure they are fit for purpose. It is our understanding that New Zealand is the only country that audits this type of offshore facility.

“Our actions demonstrate how seriously we take our biosecurity and the high expectations we have of assurances provided by our overseas trading partners.”


International trade is facilitated through official assurances from government to government – in this case from the USA to New Zealand – that exports are safe and free from pests and disease.

As an extra layer of protection against biosecurity threats, MPI conducted its own audits of the facility in 2006, 2011 and 2018.

The facility is one of four accredited by MPI to conduct offshore disease screening of apple and stonefruit cuttings for regulated pests for New Zealand.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

New strain of rabbit calicivirus confirmed in New Zealand

A new strain of the rabbit calicivirus has been confirmed in a single wild rabbit found on a Marlborough farm.

The strain – called RHDV2 – is widespread in Europe and Australia, but this is the first time it has been found in New Zealand, says Ministry for Primary Industries response manager John Brightwell.

The virus affects rabbits and the European hare, he said.

It has no impact on human health or other animals, but a potential risk to pet rabbits can not be ruled out.

“We understand this will be worrying news for many rabbit owners, and we want to give people as many tools as possible to minimise the risk to their animals,” Mr Brightwell said.

“As a precaution, we began work at the end of last month to import the latest vaccine for the strain from France. We expect the first 1,000 doses to be in the country next week and are working with importers to secure a long-term supply.”

The testing programme has identified only one wild rabbit but the virus spreads quickly.

“At this stage, we don’t yet know how widespread it is, or how long it has been in the country,” Mr Brightwell said.

“We are working to answer both those questions but our key focus right now is to minimise the risk in front of us and support rabbit owners to take the right precautions, including making a vaccine available.

“Because of the difficulties involved in pinning down a virus, we may never know exactly how it came into New Zealand and where it came from. However, we know that the strain was not brought in from Australia because it is sufficiently different from the RHDV2 strain prevalent there.”

The ministry is not ruling out that the new strain came in with the RHDV1-K5 strain which was released nationwide in a planned rollout through March and April because of extensive testing at the time.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

MPI confirms the discovery of great willowherb – an invasive weed – in Canterbury

Biosecurity New Zealand (MPI) today confirmed that the invasive weed, great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), has been found growing in several areas in Canterbury. Great willowherb has not previously been recorded as present in New Zealand.

Initial discoveries occurred in and around the lake at Pegasus township in the Waimakariri District, and near the Kate Valley landfill, approximately 40km north of Lake Pegasus.

A field team is currently searching all likely places in the wider area to determine the extent of the incursion.  To date, great willowherb has been positively identified at five sites.

Great willowherb is characterised by its aggressive growth, and there is concern it may crowd out native wetland plants.  It can form dense stands, impeding water flow in waterways and wetlands. It may also spread to undisturbed damp areas and invade existing vegetation.

At present there is no risk to freshwater fish or agriculture.

John Brightwell, team manager, response at Biosecurity New Zealand, says that once the extent of the incursion is understood, officials will be in a better position to determine what response actions can be carried out.

“We’re in the early stages of determining the severity of this incursion,” says Mr  Brightwell. “Once we’ve determined this, we’ll work closely with Environment Canterbury and the Department of Conservation to develop an appropriate response.”

In the meantime, Biosecurity New Zealand is urging all Cantabrians to be on the lookout for great willowherb, and to report it to Biosecurity New Zealand’s pest and diseases hotline if they think they’ve spotted it anywhere on public or private property.

“If you think you’ve seen great willowherb, don’t remove it,” says Mr Brightwell.

“Take a close-up photo and call 0800 80 99 66 to report it.  It’s extremely important that members of the public do not attempt to remove this weed on their own.  They may mistake it for other, similar-looking native plants and, just as importantly, they may risk spreading the seeds.”

Great willowherb is a flowering plant also commonly known as the hairy willowherb, or great hairy willowherb.  It is a highly invasive weed in parts of North America and in Victoria, Australia.  It is closely related to and sometimes mistaken for a rare, endangered native herb (Epilobium hirtigerum) that goes by the common name of hairy willowherb.

Overseas, great willowherb typically grows in wet or damp places without dense tree cover, up to 2,500m above sea-level. Common habitats include marshland, ditches, and the banks of rivers and streams.  At this time of year, most of the flowers will be gone, and the plant will be partially covered in seed.

Great willowherb reproduces by wind-dispersed seeds and spreads by its thick rhizomes (underground stems).  It tends to spread most rapidly in early autumn. The rhizomes can grow submerged in water or water-saturated soils, but can also spread into meadows and other upland areas.

Other characteristics of great willowherb:

  • grows up to 2m tall
  • stems are erect and branched
  • large, showy pink-purple flowers (3cm diameter) with white centres and notched petals
  • leaves are opposite, lance-shaped, tooth-edged, and attach directly on the stem
  • long, narrow seed pods split open to release numerous seeds with long white hairs.

Source: Biosecurity New Zealand