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A Southland farmer burst into tears when he heard he was discharged without conviction on charges brought by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Alphonsus Cornelis Maria Zeestraten appeared yesterday at Invercargill District Court for sentencing on two charges, one in his name, the other on behalf of his company, Southern Centre Dairies.
The two charges were the same — strict liability after failing to comply with section 25 (8) of the Biosecurity Act 1993 by not acting in the terms of the Biosecurity Authority/Clearance Certificate which required a container to be placed in a transitional facility and to be inspected.
The charges were related to the importation of a container from the Netherlands that was supposed to be inspected and transferred to a transitional facility.
During the hearing, defence lawyer Garth Gallaway specifically made a point of saying when Zeestraten’s farm was placed under common restrictions due to Mycoplasma bovis at the same time as the separate MPI investigation on the importation of the container, incorrect rumours that his farm was at the centre of the outbreak caused extra hardship for his client.
Mr Gallaway also said a conviction could result in MPI’s refusal to pay compensation offered to farmers who suffered a verifiable loss from the Mycoplasma bovis response.
MPI prosecutor Pip Norman said the hearing outcome would not influence MPI’s compensation decision, but believed the judge would be undermining the Biosecurity Act if he discharged Zeestraten without conviction.
Judge Cameron Walker disagreed and said Zeestraten did not need a further fine as he had already suffered severe hardship through reputational damage from the incorrect rumours, the end of personal relationships and having to sell farms and his family home.
"The outcome of all of this to Mr Zeestraten and his family has been devastating and everything they worked for the last 25 years has largely gone."
Zeestraten declined to comment after the hearing.