Fly breach blamed on relaxed security

KATE CHAPMAN AND VICTORIA ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 12/05/2012

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It was always a matter of time before New Zealand's biosecurity was breached – and a fruitfly found in an Auckland suburb may not be the last, a former quarantine inspector says.

Biosecurity processes have been in the spotlight since a male Queensland fruitfly was found in a monitoring trap in Mt Roskill.

The Primary Industries Ministry has placed a controlled 1.5km zone around the area where the insect was found.

In March a former biosecurity officer at Auckland Airport expressed concerns that New Zealand's direct exit strategy meant anything could be brought into the country.

The direct exit strategy was introduced in 2010, allowing Australian and New Zealand passport holders identified as being of low risk to leave without having their bags X-rayed.

The man, who left his job recently because of his concerns, said it was a matter of when, not if, an incursion would occur. "If it did arrive on a bit of fruit and we were X-raying everyone, we would have found it. Simple as that."

Residents in the area where the fruitfly is threatening the $6.4 billion fruit and vegetable industry face restrictions hampering everything from supermarket shopping to packing school lunches.

The ministry said every precaution was being taken to ensure any potential pests were not spread further. It has drawn a 200m circle – designated Zone A – cutting off 108 properties in Wolverton St where the fruitfly was caught. Those households are being told not to take whole fruit or vegetables off their properties.

Another containment boundary has been drawn at a 1.5km radius with 5500 residents ordered not to take any whole fruits or vegetables outside the zone.

Prime Minister John Key has supported using risk levels at the border to determine passengers more likely to breach rules.

He used the example of a businessman who spent the day in Sydney as being at low risk, but the former officer said that logic was flawed, as perhaps that businessman was originally from India and saw a mango he couldn't get in New Zealand.

"They bring the fruit because it tastes better, it's from home, it's what they always used to have. It's special so they bring it. There might be a bad luck factor but it certainly can't be helped by the fact that we're not looking."

He thought it likely more than one fruitfly was involved.

Horticulture consultant Ruth Underwood said fruitflies were most likely to be brought into the country with passengers, rather than in commercial shipments.

The recent find highlighted the importance of the monitoring system which could pick up incursions early. Her research showed the direct impact on the horticultural sector of a regional incursion of fruitflies would be between $71.4 and $24.4 million.

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Federated Farmers vice-president William Rolleston said the Government must do whatever it could to eliminate the threat.

Public Service Association national secretary Richard Wagstaff said finding the fruitfly was a timely warning to the Government not to run border biosecurity down.

Avondale residents did not seem fazed by the restrictions.

Christine Hogan, who lives in the 200m zone, said the ministry had placed a new fruitfly trap on her property.

"If it's a danger ... we quite understand and we're quite happy with whatever they do."

Hundreds of ministry staff are checking traps, handing out information on fruitflies around Avondale and working in laboratories to identify any potential pests.

- The Dominion Post

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