Posts Tagged ‘Ministry for Primary Industries’

Ministry calls for proposals for research on Myrtle Rust

The Ministry for Primary Industries has posted a Request for Proposals (HERE) for its 2017/18 Myrtle Rust Research Programme.

It advises interested parties that in March this year a response was initiated to a myrtle rust incursion on Raoul Island. This was extended to mainland New Zealand when the rust was discovered in Northland, Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.

Myrtle rust is a fungal disease with the potential to affect multiple ecologically and culturally significant species, as well as species important to industry and the public, on both localised and landscape-scales, across the majority of New Zealand. No country has managed to eradicate myrtle rust from its shores.

Funding has been allocated from August 2017 – June 2018 (Phase 1), for urgent research work focussed on addressing critical knowledge gaps and delivering real-life management tools for myrtle rust.

The funding will be delivered via through a Request for Proposal process. Funded projects will need to ensure there is a focus on high impact research that aligns with, and builds on, research to date in New Zealand and internationally.

The ministry says this is a unique opportunity to be part of a protecting New Zealand’s iconic and culturally significant trees shrubs, and ecosystems.

National management of myrtle rust will be very complex, it says. The disease potentially affects multiple native, iconic, taonga and culturally significant species, as well as species important to industry and the public, on both localised, ecosystem and landscape-scales, across the majority of New Zealand.

There are many unknowns about its long-term impacts under New Zealand environmental conditions, and no effective tools for medium- or large-scale management of the disease.


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.


New resources promote ways to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research

New booklets to help people replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research have been developed by the New Zealand arm of ANZCCART, the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching.

The principles of replace, reduce and refine are known as the 3Rs:

Replacement: Where possible, replacing animal use with alternative techniques

Reduction: using the least number of animals possible while still getting useful, reliable data

Refinement: minimising potential suffering and improving animal welfare.

The booklets, which have been produced in collaboration with the Ministry for Primary Industries, will be provided to animal ethics committees, the research community, and to schools around New Zealand.

ANZCCART Committee member and University of Auckland microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, who co-wrote the booklets, said that under New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act, animal ethics committees must take the 3Rs into account when they are considering proposals for research, testing or teaching.

“This means that animals should only be used when there are no alternatives, and that any harm to animals must be weighed up against the benefit to humans or other animals, and those harms must be minimised.”

The eight titles set out innovative ways to follow the 3Rs in many areas of scientific research in accessible and non-specialist language.

One booklet explains how to use a chemical analysis technique rather than testing on mice to detect the presence of toxins in shellfish – an example of replacement.

Another outlines how the light produced by fireflies (known as bioluminescence) can be used to non-invasively track the location and numbers of bacteria within infected animals without having to euthanise them – an example of reduction.

A further booklet explains that animal suffering can be reduced by using blood-sucking insects to collect blood from wild birds rather than needing to catch the bird, which is stressful to the animal. The insects can be smuggled into a bird’s nest and then collected later to extract the blood from – an example of refinement.

“We hope the booklets will enable researchers to think creatively about how they can follow the principles of replace, reduce and refine in research they are involved with,” says Dr Wiles.

“We also hope that the booklets will show school children and the wider public the techniques being used to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research, teaching and testing.”

The resources are being launched to coincide with the ANZCCART 2017 conference, being held as part of Queenstown Research Week from today until Monday 4 September.

Two international experts will speak on the use of animals in research:

* Dr Helena Hogberg (Deputy Director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore MD.

The centre promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development, validation, and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It aims to effect change by working with scientists in industry, government, and academia to find new ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved.

* Professor Roger Morris (Professor of Molecular Neurobiology, King’s College London).

Professor Morris will be sharing his experiences of the UK Concordat on openness for animal research at King’s College London.

The university has been inviting politicians, journalists, interested non-science members of staff, and one branch of the Women’s Institute to visit their animal houses.

Initially he was one of the few public faces of King’s College speaking on this issue. Gradually, individual scientists have become more confident to speak directly themselves.

Other universities also started to speak up, so his role has diminished as the campaign for the Concordat gathered pace.

ANZCCART is an independent body which was established to provide a focus for consideration of the scientific, ethical and social issues associated with the use of animals in research and teaching. The New Zealand Committee of ANZCCART is a special committee of Royal Society Te Apārangi.

More information on the ANZCCART Conference can be found at

The booklets will be available on the ANZCCART website following the launch:

Ministry identifies three new properties as positive for Mycoplasma bovis

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ tracing and testing programme has identified three new properties positive for the bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

All three properties have links to existing infected properties, an expected pattern at this stage of the response, says MPI Response Coordinator David Yard says.

The latest detections bring the total number of infected farms to six.

“We fully expect to find more infected properties as we continue our tracing and testing programme. These detections are evidence of the programme working, not of unexpected disease spread.” Mr Yard says.

“All detections to date have links to the original infected properties via animal movements and have been caused by close animal contact. What is encouraging is that, despite intensive testing, no adjacent properties have as yet been identified as infected.

“We have no evidence of any means of disease spread other than close animal contact, at this stage. This includes the disease having jumped fences – which our scientists and vets tell us is highly unlikely to occur.”

Two of the newly identified properties are Van Leeuwen Dairy Group farms and were already under Restricted Place notices under the Biosecurity Act.

The third property was a trace farm that had received a small number of calves from the third infected farm confirmed last week. The property is a lifestyle block near Rangiora.

Mr Yard said the ministry is sticking to its policy of not naming the affected properties if the owners do not want this.

The ministry is prevented from doing otherwise by the Privacy Act.

“However, we do understand community concern about the disease and we are strongly encouraging farmers under controls or investigation to talk to their neighbours, customers and suppliers.”

Mr Yard says the ministry is also continuing to contact individual farms where there is higher risk of the disease being present – that is, because they are adjacent to infected properties or are connected through animal movements.

“If farmers have not been contacted by us, then it means they are not in these groups and are at considerably less risk of the disease spreading to them. It’s a case of ‘no news is good news’ If you don’t hear from us, it means it’s not of immediate concern for you.

“In the meantime, we encourage all farmers and rural contractors to help protect their farms and businesses by following standard on-farm hygiene best practice.”

Full information on hygiene measures and other resources are available on the MPI website HERE.

MPI’s honey test results prompt call from Labour for further restructuring

The Labour Party is reported to be calling for the Ministry for Primary Industries to be split again because it’s “too big” and failing industries like the lucrative manuka honey business.

Damien O’Connor, Labour’s spokesman for Primary Industries, said the 2012 merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Fisheries and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority was meant to be about efficiency.

But he said the ministry now was “simply too big” to have the expertise required in the highly technical areas of food safety and biosecurity.

His comments (HERE) followed MPI’s deputy director of general regulation and assurance, Bryan Wilson, acknowledging a problem with the testing of manuka honey.

The Government last month released its scientific definition to authenticate New Zealand manuka honey, which is the first step leading to a standard.

This followed claims in a British trade magazine, The Grocer, that consumers were being misled over what they are buying and at vastly inflated prices.

The honey industry earns $242 million in exports a year, about 80 per cent of this from manuka honey.

But some producers say up to 20 per cent of the purest honey – worth about $10 – 20 million – is failing MPI testing.

Radio NZ reported on this issue yesterday (HERE):

Independent industry adviser John Hill said he has had clients whose honey has failed under the proposed standards despite being some of the best in the country.

He said producers had been testing hundreds of samples of the best mānuka honey, worth up to $300 a kilogram, and about 20 percent had failed.

Mr Hill said the significant fail rate had huge implications for mānuka honey producers and he wanted MPI to sort it out as soon as possible.

He said it had already been a bad year for beekeepers, with the weather affecting produce.

Bryan Wilson was intervieweed for the Radio NZ news item.

He said there appeared to be a problem with the laboratory testing methods used, and work was being done to fix it.

“It’s the way in which the testing for DNA is undertaken. There is potentially some interference with some of the chemicals, so we’re working on how that might be fixed and we think we’ve got a solution,” he said.

Mr Wilson said the test was designed to separate mānuka honey from other sorts of honey.

“We are pretty confident in the way we have got that set up. We would expect a level of difference between what our tests show and what the industry’s tests show. That’s why we started this process in the first place.”

Submissions for fresh testing ends on 13 June. Mr Wilson was confident any issues could be fixed at the end of the consultation process.

Tally of myrtle rust infections rises

The number of properties infected with myrtle rust nationally has risen to 20.

The affected properties are a mix of nurseries, private gardens, retailers/distributors and an orchard.

Sixteen of the properties are in Taranaki, three in Northland and one in Waikato.

The rust has been found on pōhutukawa, lophomyrtus, eucalyptus and a single instance each of mānuka and Syzgimum smithii. It has not yet been observed on feijoa.

The Ministry for Primary Industries says it is receiving unprecedented support from members of the public, with well over 450 reports of suspected symptoms to its 0800 number.

The ministry is working closely with the Department of Conservation in the effort to manage the situation.

People are encouraged to look for signs of myrtle rust, including in the South Island. Many common garden plants are members of the myrtle family and any new growth is susceptible.

The underside of new leaves in Lily-Pily (Eugenia), bottlebrush, mānuka, gum, guava and feijoia should be examined, especially if they are recently purchased plants from nurseries or ordered online.

Suspected signs of myrtle rust should be reported to MPI’s Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.

The rust or the plant should not be touched because the fine wind-borne spores are easily spread on clothes or shoes. The location should be noted and photos of the symptoms and the plant taken.

Myrtle rust has now been confirmed in Waikato nursery

A positive detection of myrtle rust has been made in the Waikato region, the Ministry for Primary Industries announced this afternoon.

The fungal plant disease was identified in a small number of plants at a nursery in Te Kuiti. The new location was found as a result of MPI tracing sales of plants from another positive nursery.

MPI has personnel on the ground in Te Kuiti and restrictions have been imposed on the movement of risk goods from the property.

The property will be treated with fungicide.

As with all other finds to date, MPI will continue to search surrounding areas for signs of the fungus.

The new find, along with confirmations on a further three properties in Taranaki, brings the total number of confirmed infected properties to 16 nationally.

Most of the properties are in Taranaki, along with two confirmed in Northland and the latest one in Waikato.

The disease-causing fungus has been found at a mix of properties including nurseries, plant retailers and distributors, an orchard and private gardens.

MPI is receiving unprecedented support from members of the public, with some 420 reports of suspected symptoms to its 0800 number.

Of those reports, a small percentage require sampling and testing. The Ministry is able to distinguish the highest risk reports from photographs.

Myrtle rust only affects plants in the myrtle family. Any rust symptoms on other plants can immediately be discounted.

The ministry has thanked people for their vigilance. Their reports are helping to build a picture of where the rust is present and inform plans being made for the future management of the fungus.

The ministry continues its effort to try to contain the rust at infected properties, but is also realistic that this is a huge challenge and New Zealanders may have to learn to live with it.

People can report suspected signs of myrtle rust to MPI’s Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66.

The public are urged not to touch the rust or the plant. The location should be noted and photos taken of the symptoms and the plant.