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9 May 1997
New Zealand and Australia are co-operating to carry out tests to establish whether the bacterial disease fire blight is present in Australia.
A New Zealand scientist on holiday in Melbourne noticed what he thought was fire blight on trees (cotoneasters) in the Royal Botanic Gardens and brought samples
back to New Zealand for tests, which proved positive.
The results were unexpected, as Australia has declared that it is free of the disease, which mainly affects trees from the rose family, including apples. Australia does not accept apple exports from New Zealand, which does have the disease.
Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, including Chief Plants Officer Richard Ivess, and scientists from HortResearch met their Australian counterparts in Canberra yesterday to discuss issues relating to access to Australia for New Zealand apples, including the New Zealand test results.
The two countries have agreed to share plant material and scientific expertise to establish whether the disease is in fact present across the Tasman, and, if so, how
widespread it is.
Australia has given New Zealand officials samples of plant material from botanic gardens to bring back for tests, which will be carried out at HortResearch in Mount Albert. Final results are expected in about a week. Meanwhile, the Australians are also carrying out their own tests on samples from the same trees.
The New Zealand team also met the two senior Victorian scientists who will be carrying out the Australian tests and explained the methods used in New Zealand to detect fire blight, because, due to its presence in this country, our scientists have more experience in detecting it.
It is too early to speculate on the potential implications of positive results on the trans-Tasman apple trade. If surveillance shows the disease is confined to a small area, Australia may move to simply contain and control fire blight within that area. Australia may continue to ban the importation of apples from countries in which fire blight is established into areas in Australia which are free of the disease.
Media inquiries to:
Richard Ivess, Chief Plants Officer, (04) 474 4127
Debbie Gee, Manager, Corporate Communications, (04) 474 4258