$980 fine for smuggling plant cuttings

15 September 2000

A Hastings woman was found guilty last week of attempting to smuggle a variety of plant cuttings into the country, saying she wished to grow them in New Zealand, as they were ‘very nice’.

Elizabeth Tarculas McKee was fined a total of $980 after one bean pod, six soft stem cuttings, and three wooded cuttings were found wrapped in clothing at the bottom of her carry bag by a MAF Quarantine Officer at Auckland International Airport in August 1999. In addition the bag’s side pocket contained three plant bulbs wrapped in a scarf.

The fine includes court costs of $130 and solicitors fee of $100.

McKee had declared she was bringing food into the country and had produced cakes to the Quarantine Officer. These were deemed suitable for entry, however, she declared she had no foliage, seeds, bulbs or wood.

McKee appeared in the Hastings District Court on charges of attempting to posses unauthorised goods under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

‘Unauthorised goods’ are undeclared risk goods that have gone beyond a transitional facility or Biosecurity Control area without the permissions of an inspector.

Attempting to possess unauthorised goods under the Biosecurity Act carries a penalty of imprisonment up to five years, or a fine up to $100,000, or both.

In-coming passengers have numerous opportunities to be made aware of, declare or dispose of risk goods prior to going beyond the airport’s biosecurity control area.

A MAF Quarantine information video is shown on most airlines detailing penalties for not declaring food, fruit, plants, meat and animal products and incoming passengers are required to complete an Agricultural Declaration Form. In the passenger arrival halls, notices are placed at baggage carousels, MAF detector dogs and handlers are operational, as well as amnesty bins for the disposal of ‘last minute’ items. Passengers can choose to go through the Red Way (dutiable/agricultural items to declare) or the Green Way (nothing to declare) exits.

All imports of plants, fruit and vegetables must be declared by MAF. Clearance is necessary to protect against the introduction of unwanted pests or diseases that could seriously affect New Zealand’s agricultural industry.

Plants and cuttings could introduce exotic plant pests such as viral or fungal diseases. Viral diseases weaken plants and affects yields, while fungal diseases render fruit and vegetables inedible.

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