Scientist sentenced for lying to biosecurity inspector

10 August 2010

The justice system has today sent a clear signal to an Auckland scientist that flouting biosecurity rules won't be tolerated.

Terril Marais, the director of Pukekohe biological control company Zonda Resources Limited, has been sentenced in the Auckland District Court to four months community detention and 120 hours community work for giving false information to a biosecurity inspector regarding the illegal importation of a predatory insect.

The sentence requires Marais to remain at her home address between the hours of 7pm and 6am every night between Tuesday and Sunday for four months.

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand Response Manager, David Hayes, says the sentence illustrates the severity of the offending and sends a warning that importing risk goods and lying to biosecurity officials is taken very seriously.

"Our investigations in this case found that Marais and her company Zonda Resources Limited had imported and then bred large numbers of an insect known as a mirid bug (Macrolophus pygmaeus) and sold them for the biological control of the pest whitefly in commercial greenhouses," Mr Hayes says.

When the insects were discovered on a Zonda property, Marais initially claimed to MAFBNZ that she had found a specimen in the Auckland Botanical Gardens and had inadvertently spread it to a number of other greenhouses.

Later evidence in an anonymous letter to MAFBNZ and Horticulture New Zealand indicated that there had, in fact, been an illegal importation of the bug, and that a planned cover-up story was that it had come from the Botanical Gardens. Further investigations found the deliberate importation of Macrolophus had occurred without the appropriate approvals from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) which must give permission for the importation of organisms new to New Zealand.

Both Zonda Resources and a second horticultural company, Great Lake Tomatoes Limited of Reporoa, appeared in the Auckland District Court in late July on a variety of charges around the illegal importation and distribution of the bug. At that time, Great Lake Tomatoes was fined a total of $30,000 and Zonda Resources was fined $10,000. Marais had her sentencing on giving false information to an inspector deferred to today.

"This case is particularly disappointing, because of the scientific and horticultural backgrounds of the defendants involved. They had a good understanding of biosecurity import requirements and, more particularly, that such requirements and processes are in place to protect our environment and horticulture industry," Mr Hayes says.

"The uncontrolled and illegal importation of insects, such as Macrolophus, increases the chances that other hitchhiker pests and diseases could arrive in New Zealand and undermine existing biocontrol programmes. This could affect the economic well-being of our agricultural and horticultural industries as well as New Zealand's environment."

Macrolophus species feed on a number of insects including plant pests such as whiteflies, aphids, leaf miners, thrips; and spider mites. The bugs can establish and develop at relatively low temperatures and are therefore likely to survive outside the glasshouse environment in some areas of New Zealand, especially in the North Island. In the absence of insects, Macrolophus can feed on cultivated plants such as tomato, tobacco, capsicum and eggplant. Once established in high numbers, the bug can cause feeding damage to tomatoes, spoiling, amongst other things, the appearance of the fruit.

Media contact:
Lesley Patston, Senior Communications Adviser, 029 894 0063.



Last Updated: 22 September 2010

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