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MAF quarantine intercepts major tree disease

Friday 7 November 2003


MAF quarantine intercepts major tree disease

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry today announced that it had destroyed a consignment of Douglas fir cuttings imported in February 2003 from the United States, which was contained in a secure quarantine facility at Kaiapoi near Christchurch.

Douglas fir samples showing evidence of disease were sent to MAF for diagnosis. Preliminary diagnoses indicated contamination by pine pitch canker (Fusarium circinatum, also known as “pitch canker”), a significant fungal disease known to affect Pinus radiata and other commercially grown trees commonly found in New Zealand. There is no known cure or effective treatment for pine pitch canker.

“MAF was made aware of the positive diagnosis for pine pitch canker on 5 November 2003 and ensured further laboratory tests were conducted. The rest of the material in the facility was secured at that time. There was sufficient evidence of the risk of contamination by pine pitch canker for us to order the controlled destruction of all of the seedling grafts in this consignment, which was completed yesterday,” MAF’s Forest Biosecurity Director Peter Thomson said today.

“As all of these seedling grafts were in secure quarantine there is no risk to New Zealand’s forests from this contamination. This interception shows the value of quarantine facilities when dealing with the risk of inadvertently importing unwanted plant pests and diseases.

“Every effort is made to ensure that tree material is imported from parts of the world known to be free of pests and diseases such as pine pitch canker. We have immediately suspended any further imports of pine pitch canker host material from the United States and will review our long-term requirements once the interception has been confirmed.

“The importing company has co-operated with MAF’s investigation and fully supports the reasons for destroying this consignment,” Peter Thomson said.

This incident is unrelated to another investigation currently being conducted by MAF into allegations made by former Forest Research Institute staff that Pinus taeda (Loblolly or Arkansas pine) material imported by the Institute in the mid-1990s was infected with pine pitch canker. MAF is currently investigating to determine whether those allegations have substance and require further action.

ENDS

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