Californian Grape Imports Resume

6 September 2002

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."

For more information contact:

Hayley Brock, Media Advisor, Ministry of Health
Stephen Olsen, Communications Adviser, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

Link to IHS at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/enter/plants
Other links at: www.moh.govt.nz; www.maf.govt.nz; www.doc.govt.nz

Background

What did the special biosecurity project team do? 

The team of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Health and Department of Conservation assessed the risk to human health and the environment posed by exotic spiders entering New Zealand on imported table grapes.

The final assessment documents have also been released today:

  1. A Health Impact Assessment Relating to Venomous Spiders Entering New Zealand in Association with Imported Table Grapes.(see www.moh.govt.nz)
  2. Pest Risk Assessment: Spiders Associated with Table grapes from California, Australia, Mexico and Chile (see http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/regs/imports/ihs/risk)

The Review of Submissions will be made available next week.

What is an Import Health Standard?

Import Health Standards (IHS) specify the requirements to be met for the effective management of risks associated with the importation of risk goods before those goods can be imported, moved from a biosecurity control area or a transitional facility, or given a biosecurity clearance.

New Zealand IHS are based upon risk analyses, which assess either a commodity or a pest/pathway combination. New Zealand's legislative requirements and international obligations are taken into account when applying the findings of risk analysis to the development of IHS. IHS for plants and plant products imported into New Zealand are a requirement under the Biosecurity Act 1993. All plants and plant products are prohibited entry into New Zealand unless an IHS has been issued in accordance with the Act. IHS for plants and plant products are made available for public access on the MAF website at http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/imports/plants

Which exotic spiders have been detected previously on imported grapes?

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

What does the black widow spider look like?

The male spider has an elongated black shiny body, with white and red markings on its side. The female's abdomen is almost spherical and features a red hourglass mark or two red marks. The body size of black widow spiders ranges between 3mm and 1.2 cm depending on age and gender.

What precautions can you take when buying table grapes?

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.

What should you do if you think you have found a black widow spider?

If anyone finds what may be a black widow spider, they should approach with caution. People should avoid physical contact. If it is possible to capture the spider without endangering anybody, fly spray should be used to stun the spider prior to killing it and/or placing it in a sealed jar. To report a suspected exotic pest members of the public should then call the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on 0800 80 9966.

If live spiders of another suspected exotic species are detected the Ministry recommends they be responded to in the same manner.

What are the symptoms of a black widow spider bite?

Bite symptoms range from mild discomfort to abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. With safe effective antivenom victims usually recover from the more serious symptoms in three to five days.

What should I do if I think I have been bitten by a black widow spider?

If you suspect you have been bitten by a black widow spider you need to seek urgent medical attention. If possible clean the wound with antiseptic or warm soapy water and place ice on the bite prior to travelling to the nearest health centre. Even if you do not immediately experience symptoms beyond the "pin prick" of the bite you should still seek medical advice.

What should I do with the spider?

If it is possible to capture the spider without endangering anybody, do so, and take it to the hospital with you. The spider should be approached with caution and fly spray used to stun the spider prior to killing it and/or placing it in a sealed jar.

Is antivenom available?

There is safe and effective antivenom available for black widow spider bites due to the presence of the native katipo, and the Australian redback in New Zealand. Without access to antivenom it has been estimated that about five percent of all black widow bites are fatal.

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33