Government backtracks on import of compost containing animal manure

Mushroom growing requires large quantities of compost.

Mushroom growing requires large quantities of compost.

The Government has decided not to allow the import of compost which contains animal manure for mushroom growing.

The decision will have an impact in particular on Mercer Mushrooms near Auckland, which had applied to import compost from the Netherlands for its business. Earlier this year Mercer went from manufacturing its own compost to importing substrate. The company was issued a permit for plant-based compost.

It started to import the compost, until a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigation found the product contained animal manure. MPI then put the import on hold until it developed a new import health standard to cover animal-based manure.

Compost-making can create a big stink - but so do neighbours affected by the smell.

Compost-making can create a big stink - but so do neighbours affected by the smell.

In recent months MPI has had to deal with two major biosecurity incursions - myrtle rust and the cow disease Mycoplasma bovis.

READ MORE: Meadow Mushrooms denies anti-competitive behaviour

NZ First leader Winston Peters has warned about the potential hazards of importing animal manure from overseas.

Mercer Mushrooms chief executive Dave Hyland said compost making was difficult in areas close to residential areas because people protested about the smell.

An MPI spokesman said it needed to be sure the imported compost met its strict import biosecurity standards, and had been developing an import health standard "that would potentially allow the import of animal and plant-based compost subject to strict conditions to ensure all biosecurity risks would be properly managed".

This would include measures such as heat treatment to sufficiently kill any pests or pathogens before being allowed into New Zealand.

 "We have been communicating with Mercer Mushrooms and their supplier in the Netherlands to ensure that any risks associated with the potential import of this product would be properly managed.

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"The supplier has not been able to provide MPI with confirmation that they are able to meet our proposed standards. Until we receive further information that this can be achieved we will not be continuing our work on the import health standard," MPI said.

Hyland said he was still optimistic he could get permission to import the compost, which consisted predominantly of straw and gypsum. Between 6-12 per cent was horse, chicken and cattle manure.

It was pasteurised, heat treated and plastic-wrapped. Mercer used about 120 tonnes a week to produce 23 tonnes a week of mushrooms.

New Zealand's largest mushroom grower Meadow Mushrooms has recently spent $35 million on a new compost plant. Hyland said he believed it produced about 130 tonnes of mushrooms a week.

"It was bad that dodgy Korean mud got so far down the track, but the importation of excreta of horses, cattle and chickens is worse.  We are talking about something that Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and Equine Health all think is bonkers," Peters said.

There was a risk of importing deadly diseases such as foot and mouth.

Hyland said hygiene was crucial for mushroom growing, and Mercer's plant was first class. It was not an easy business to be in, and growers had to deal with neighbours irate over the smell the business made.

Peters said Mercer should do as other businesses did and apply through the Resource Management Act for permission to build a compost plant, rather than endanger biosecurity.

 - Stuff

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