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Insufficient Evidence To Support Smuggling Claim

18 March 2001


Insufficient evidence exists at this point to support claims that Pinot Noir cloned rootstock was smuggled into New Zealand.

Jockey Jensen, Manager of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Special Investigation Group (SPIG) said MAF received information in December 2001 that illegally imported rootstock had been brought into the country four years ago and that it was being grown on a vineyard in the Martinborough region.

"There is nothing in our investigation to suggest any illegal activity has occurred," he says.

"We have spoken to the owners of the vineyard who very willingly made available all plant records indicating grape varieties by row, name and plant supplier. Plant tests also undertaken very clearly showed legitimate grape stock varieties."

Concern has been expressed within the grape industry that the lack of a Level 3-quarantine facility raises the risk that growers will illegally bring bud wood into the country.

"When this offence is alleged to have occurred there was a MAF Level 3 quarantine facility for plant importation operating at Lynfield in Auckland for high risk plant material. At that time any grower could legitimately apply to bring this variety into the country," he says.

Under Level 3-quarantine plants must be placed in a biosecurity-rated containment facility where they are tested for a range of diseases and then observed over a period of time.

When MAF was restructured in1998 the commercial function of the Lynfield operation was taken over by the newly formed State Owned Enterprise, AgriQuality.

It soon became apparent that it was not commercially viable to continue offering quarantine services. The facility officially closed its quarantine service in February 2001 but it continued to accept any material with MAF permits already in until November 2001. To explore future options for resolving the present situation regarding the gap in Level 3 facilities for high-risk horticultural crops MAF will be holding a meeting with Industry groups and potential service providers on the 25th of March.

The maximum penalty for illegally bringing goods into the country is a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for up to five years.

For more information please contact:

Philippa White 04 4989948

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