Live black widow spider found, no fumigation failures found

16 October 2001

A live black widow spider was found last week in a carton of Californian table grapes in an Auckland supermarket.

Imports from the treatment facility in California were suspended until the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) audit was completed.

The USDA audit confirmed that all required treatments were carried out in California in accordance with agreed MAF standards. Importing has resumed.

"The USDA audit did not find any system failures which could be attributed to our standards not being followed correctly, therefore imports of Californian table grapes will continue," said Justin Downs, MAF's national adviser, International Operations (Plant Imports).

Mr Downs said the situation would be reviewed again if another exotic spider made it into New Zealand.

The USDA has written to MAF reassuring the Ministry of its, and the Californian table grape industry's, commitment to comply with New Zealand import standards. Additional measures have also been put in place to ensure this remains a credible and sustainable program.

The risk of black widow spiders becoming established in New Zealand by this pathway is considered very low.

The male black widow spider has an elongated black shiny body, with white and red markings on its side. The female's abdomen has a red hourglass mark or two red marks on its back. It is similar in appearance to the New Zealand katipo spider, which is venomous. The black widow spider's bite is also venomous, and may result in breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting.

New Zealand imports 400,000 cartons of Californian table grapes a year. So far this season 145,000 cartons have been imported. This equates to 3.625 million bunches of grapes. Last months finding of a black widow spider bring the total to three spider finds this season.

For further information contact:

Gita Parsot, MAF Biosecurity Communications

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