Further fruit fly find sparks risks review call

COSTLY PEST: Queensland fruit fly.
COSTLY PEST: Queensland fruit fly.

A new Queensland fruit fly scare is raising questions over the country’s biosecurity efforts.

The fruit fly has been caught in a trap in Whangarei, the second of the pests to be found there this year.

Found just 400 metres from the last fruit fly, the discovery has led to calls for Ministry of Primary Affairs (MPI) to review how it manages biosecurity risks.

MPI says there is no connection between the two recent fruit flies discoveries, but the Green Party is not convinced.

Green Party biosecurity spokesman Steffan Browning said the Ministry needs to explain why it thinks this is a new incursion. 

"Given that the last fruit fly was found in the same region only a few months ago it seems likely there is a connection."

Labour’s Primary Industries spokesperson Damien O’Connor labelled the new discovery as a "massive failure" for MPI. 

‘‘This fly is the fourth fruit fly to be found in New Zealand and shows a systemic problem which the Ministry has been unable to fix.

Horticulture NZ is calling for a review on how the country manages biosecurity risks.

The male fly was collected from a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) routine surveillance trap on Tuesday and formally identified late yesterday.

Queensland fruit flies are regarded as a serious threat to New Zealand’s horticultural industry.

Horticulture NZ chief executive Peter Silcock said it is unbelievable the country is faced with another Queensland fruit fly scare.

"We do have to urgently look at how we are managing the biosecurity risk, so we don’t keep finding this pest in our traps."

This is a serious situation for the entire New Zealand horticulture industry and home gardeners, he said. 

However, Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy came to the defence of the ministry's "comprehensive and professional" efforts.

"I'm very pleased with the job MPI has done in responding to the discovery of a male Queensland fruit fly this year."

MPI deputy director general compliance and response, Andrew Coleman, said the insect was trapped in the Parihaka area of Whangarei, about 400 metres from where a fly was found in January.

However, he said there did not seem to be a connection between the two finds.

Queensland fruit flies had been found four times in New Zealand previously, including the January Whangarei find. In the earlier cases, increased trapping found no further flies, Coleman said.

Prior to May 2012, the last Queensland fruit fly detection was 16 years ago.

MPI field teams were working in the area setting more traps to determine if other fruit flies were present and providing information to residents.

"As in January, it is vital we find out if the insect is a solitary find or if there is a wider population in Whangarei," Coleman said.

"This insect is an unwanted and notifiable organism that could have serious consequences for New Zealand’s horticultural industry and home gardeners. It can damage a wide range of fruit and vegetables."

Coleman said MPI was working closely with international trading partners and the horticultural industry to minimise the risk to New Zealand growers and exporters.

MPI was defining a controlled area around the location of the fruit fly find and the movement of fruit and vegetables out of this area would be restricted. MPI would provide extensive information about this in the near future and would work closely with the local community.

Coleman said the most likely way fruit fly could arrive in New Zealand was in fresh fruit and vegetables.

"The ministry is aware that fruit fly populations have dramatically increased in Australia in recent months and in light of the previous Whangarei find, we have been reviewing our importing requirements for fruit fly risk goods."

Labour’s Primary Industries spokesperson, Damien O’Connor, said the discovery was a "massive failure for New Zealand’s biosecurity" which had failed to identify how the fly was getting in.

"This fly is the fourth fruit fly to be found in New Zealand and shows a systemic problem which the Ministry has been unable to fix."

At a cost to the taxpayer of $1 million dollars a fly, it would be better for the Government to invest more in front-line biosecurity prevention, he said.

O’Connor said they needed to stop the importation of fruit from areas affected by the fly regions until it was discovered how the fly was getting here and develop new processes and methods of inspection once it was known.