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Trade in Californian table grapes is suspended

6 November, 2001

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be asked not to certify any more Californian table grapes for importation to New Zealand.

The decision to suspend trade was reached today in a meeting of biosecurity representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Conservation, and the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

Group Director of Biosecurity Barry O’Neil said that MAF will be discussing with the United States Department of Agriculture what measures can be taken to improve the effectiveness of the current treatment process.

“While our existing Import Health Standards allow for one live spider per one million grapes, or 90 % efficacy of the fumigation process, clearly this is still creating significant concerns and post border problems.”

“There is real concern at the number of Black widow spiders that have entered the country and the risk they pose from both an environmental and health perspective,” he said.

“We will undertake further work, in close consultation with relevant government and biosecurity agencies and the USDA and Californian Authorities, to determine the likelihood of Black widow spiders becoming established in New Zealand and the implications this poses for public health.

The suspension in Californian table grapes will remain in place until the review is complete, probably six months.

There are 43 containers carrying 66,608 boxes of Californian table grapes already on their way to New Zealand. These consignments will be allowed into the country but MAF will conduct additional checks.

Ministry of Health Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation, Dr Bob Boyd said that it was highly unlikely that a healthy person would die as a result of a Black widow spider bite, although the very young, elderly or debilitated people were at greater risk.

“But obviously we need to take this very seriously given the number of Black widow spiders that have entered the country,” he said.

The male spider has an elongated black shiny body, with white and red markings on its side. The female's abdomen is almost spherical, usually with a red hourglass mark on its back or two red marks on its underside. It may grow up to the size of about a 20-cent coin.

Dr Boyd said there is a native New Zealand spider that has a similar appearance, but the distinctive feature about the black widow was the markings on its back.

If anyone finds what may be a black widow spider, they should approach with caution. People should avoid physical contact. Fly spray could be used to stun the spider to allow it to be killed and/or placed into a sealed jar.

Dr Boyd said anyone who suspects they may have been bitten by a black widow spider should place ice on the bite, and seek urgent medical attention. The injury is treated symptomatically. If the spider can be captured without endangering anybody, it should be caught to confirm its identification and the local public health service advised. So far this year there has been no post border detection of other exotic pests. Although the importation of table grapes has resulted in one live Black widow spider per million bunches of grapes, this is not the case for other insects.

The fumigation treatment and cold storage of grapes ensures more serious agriculture pests such as the Glassy-winged sharp shooter are not a risk with this pathway.

For further information contact: Communications Advisor Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Philippa White, 025 223 1875

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