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Californian Grape Imports Resume


Friday 6 September 2002

Californian Grape Imports Resume

Tightened quarantine measures are being put in place to reduce the risk to public health and the environment from exotic spiders entering New Zealand on table grapes from California.

Since the trade in table grapes from California was suspended in November 2001 an inter-agency project team - consisting of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Ministry of Health and Department of Conservation - has produced a set of risk assessment and risk mitigation documents. These were available for public consultation between 12 June and 24 July.

"All of the 18 submissions we received on the Pest Risk Assessment, Health Impact Assessment and Mitigation Measures have been carefully considered and reviewed," said project leader Christine Reed, of MAF's Biosecurity Coordination Group.

"As an outcome of this process a revised Import Health Standard (IHS) has been issued which describes our requirements for biosecurity clearance to be given. This was issued today and as a result trade can resume immediately".

"Achieving zero biosecurity risk isn't practical," said Ms Reed. "We fully expect that new species, including exotic spiders, will still be detected in New Zealand from time to time. This is why the IHS will be reviewed at the completion of the first export season."

"Before any shipment leaves California our IHS procedures require a 100% visual inspection at harvest to ensure the grapes are free of any regulated pests, including spiders and glassy wing sharp shooter," said Ms Reed. "Each consignment must be packed and shipped to prevent infestation and all consignments are fumigated with SO2/CO2 (sulphur dioxide/ carbon dioxide). MAF will inspect a sample of grapes from each consignment before it is released into New Zealand".

"A whole consignment will be rejected if a spider is found. Any spiders found post-border will be traced back to their consignment and the facility where they were fumigated so that we can determine whether there has been a non-compliance with the IHS. Appropriate action will then be taken."

Ministry of Health Chief Technical Officer Sally Gilbert said there was a moderately low level of risk to the general public from exotic spiders that are associated with grape importation as there is a low risk of them becoming established in the New Zealand environment.

"It is our view that the public health risk posed by spiders entering the country on imported table grapes doesn't warrant ongoing suspension of Californian imports," she said.

Live spiders of health concern that have been detected in New Zealand on imported grapes are two types of black widow, the brown widow and the Australian redback.

"The two types of black widow spider that have been detected on grapes after they have been cleared at the border pose a moderately high health risk to the individuals who detect them. However even if detected, these spiders do not always bite, and if they do bite, they do not always inject venom".

Ms Gilbert said to date, the Ministry of Health was not aware of any incidents where people have been bitten by black widow spiders in New Zealand.

"With the resumption of Californian grape imports, the Ministry of Health has taken measures to reduce the risks to individuals who might detect spiders post-border."

"We are working with Occupational Safety and Health to provide first aid information to workers in 'at-risk' occupations. We are also providing internet access to a poisons information database for public health services, and will be funding the development of a database for the national management of anti-venom stock".

"MAF began targeting people who work in the cargo and import industry in July to ensure anyone who sees live insects on imported consignments, contains and reports what they find to the exotic pest hotline on 0800 80 9966".

"Fresh fruit and vegetables need to be a healthy part of everyone's diet and lifestyle," added Ms Gilbert. "And it is very unlikely that members of the public who wish to eat fresh table grapes will encounter an exotic spider while doing so. Washing bunches of grapes prior to consumption would be a sensible precaution. Biosecurity doesn't stop at the border."

ENDS


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