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The glitch that almost stole Christmas

The glitch that almost stole Christmas

That most cherished of New Zealand Christmas icons, the needle-shedding pine-scented genuine Christmas tree was at risk of being wiped out this year by an infection of pine pitch canker. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has confirmed that 290 Douglas Fir seedlings had been destroyed last week after being found to carry the infection.

"The destruction of the infected seedlings may have stopped this possible outbreak, but the response is like relying on the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff," said Green Biosecurity spokesperson MP Ian Ewen-Street. "Not only did we have to rely on the ambulance at the bottom, but MAF had removed the fence at the top only three months before the seedlings were imported,"

MAF had lifted the ban on all radiata pine imports from California into New Zealand because of widespread pitch canker, just three months before the infected seedlings entered this country. The ban was restored last week.

Ian Ewen-Street said the lifting of the import ban flies in the face of MAF's own national advisor on forest biosecurity, Dr Michael Ormsby who said that there were "significant reasons" against accepting Californian imports, citing wind-blown dispersion of spores, a lack of scientific knowledge about the triggering of the disease and the fact that pine may be symptomless carriers.

The issue raised serious questions as to who was behind the year-long lifting of the ban on Californian pine imports, said Ian Ewen-Street. "Who is making the decisions here, importers or MAF's own scientific advisors?"

"This is a wake-up call for our biosecurity agencies. New Zealand's pine industry is worth $5 billion, and pine pitch canker is not the only foreign disease we are lucky enough not have spread to our shores. We must focus on managing necessary risks associated with trade and tourism rather than flirting with totally unnecessary risks like this," said Ian Ewen-Street.

"We don't need Christmas trees becoming an endangered species, especially this time of year."


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