Judicial review into MPI directive begins

A judicial review into a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) directive to destroy or contain imported plantings at the centre of a national biosecurity scare is being held in Wellington this week.

A group of five North Island growers who have challenged the MPI order announced the judicial review would be held yesterday and today.

The review will challenge MPI's July 31 order to destroy or contain apple and stonefruit plant material imported from a specific United States facility since June 2012 that could not be confirmed as being free of pests and diseases.

About 47,500 plants and small trees at 32 nurseries, importers and growers in New Zealand have been affected, including eight Central Otago stonefruit orchardists.

Seven of the Central Otago orchardists had test trees for new varieties, and one had significant plantings of a new variety and would need to destroy those trees, Summerfruit New Zealand chief executive Marie Dawkins said after the MPI announcement.

No more information is available on the Central Otago growers, and no sign of disease has been found in Central Otago.

The statement from the five growers who have lodged the judicial review - Johnny Appleseed Holdings Limited, New Zealand Fruit Tree Company Limited and Zee Sweet Limited, all of Hastings; McGrath Nurseries Limited, of Cambridge; and Pattullo's Nurseries Limited, of Napier - said more information about MPI's audit process at the United States facility had "come to light, casting significant questions over the basis of the MPI directive to contain and/or destroy plant material".

Paul Paynter, of The Yummy Fruit Company (part of Johnny Appleseed Holdings Limited), said MPI had failed to conduct the required annual compliance audits on the United States facility between 2010 and 2018, and only did a five-yearly review, that was due in 2015, in 2018.

"MPI has let us all down. The orchardists and nursery men and women are not at fault here. The situation is clearly a result of MPI mismanagement and it's the industry members who are paying the ultimate price.

"We have growers across the country pulling out innovative new varieties of apples, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries, and incinerating them because MPI has not done their job properly."

When approached for comment, an MPI spokesman repeated a statement from last week, saying MPI was confident with the decisions taken and had carefully assessed risks associated with the plant material.

"We can't comment further as the matter is before the courts."

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