Contaminated crops destroyed by MAF

9 November 2000

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry destroyed fifteen hectares of Balo (Phacelia tanacetifolia) crop in Canterbury this morning after it was found the crop was from uncleared seed contaminated with two exotic weed seeds. In conjunction, a Canterbury seed company may be prosecuted under the Biosecurity Act for failing to obtain clearance from MAF before taking possession and distributing a consignment of Balo seed. Biosecurity clearance had been withheld because sampling showed the seed was contaminated.

Dr Dave Nendick, MAF Biosecurity Authority's national adviser specialising in importation of seeds and nursery stock said that the company had not once, but twice, distributed the contaminated seed held in its storehouses without obtaining a biosecurity clearance. The second time it was distributed was after they had been specifically told by MAF not to do so.

The Balo consignment was contaminated with two exotic weed seeds not found in New Zealand, Galium spurium and Chenopodium hybridum, and one regulated seed, Panicum miliaceum. Weed contamination in commercial crops can dramatically escalate costs to producers by increasing the need for control. The two weed seeds found have been recorded as serious weed contaminants over a range of arable crops in several northern hemisphere countries and in Africa.

Balo is an oil seed crop most commonly used to attract hover flies for aphid control and for use in cosmetics.

Two fields make up the 15.5 hectares of crop. These are situated in Ashburton and Darfield, and were treated with herbicide.

The seed company had the initial 30kg of the Balo seed sown over 7 hectares by a Darfield contractor in early October. Another 40kg of seed were sown by an Ashburton contractor over 8.5 hectares after the company had been told by MAF not to distribute further seed.

The unauthorised possession and sowing of the seeds is likely to be in breach of section 25 of the Biosecurity Act 1993. Under the Act, MAF can inspect, seize and destroy the contaminated crops. After being destroyed, both fields will continue to be monitored by MAF. The release of the seeds from containment may also constitute a breach of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act), which controls the introduction of new organisms into New Zealand.

Neither fields are likely to be able to be re-planted with other crops, or used in any other manner without MAF authorisation. The contaminated fields are likely to remain fallow for the remainder of the growing season to allow for the possible re-emergence of contaminant weeds. Monitoring will continue on a monthly basis by MAF and the results will determine any following action that may be required.

After the crop destruction all machinery, clothing and footwear in contact with the quarantine area will be thoroughly cleaned, and all seed and crop residues destroyed by burning or incineration on site.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is concerned about the situation and is currently working with MAF to investigate the incident. Potentially, a prosecution could also be taken under the HSNO Act.

For further information contact:

Dr Dave Nendick, National Adviser, Plant Imports (Seeds and Nursery Stock). Telephone: 04 474 4200 or 021-532-352
Gita Parsot, MAF Communications. Telephone: N/A
Karen Cronin, Communications Manager, ERMA NZ. Telephone: 021 674 952

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