Seed smuggler cops 180 hours community work

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Media contact: MPI media team
Telephone: 029 894 0328

The Ministry for Primary Industries is reminding plant enthusiasts to check importing rules after a North Canterbury man was sentenced to 180 hours community work for recklessly importing concealed seeds.

Richard Paul Watson, of Medbury, had earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of recklessly importing unauthorised goods in Christchurch District Court yesterday (17 September). He had already started community work to demonstrate his remorse.

Mr Watson arranged for heirloom corn seeds to be sent from the United States to a relative in New Zealand concealed in hand-sewn pincushions to deliberately avoid the biosecurity system.

MPI Border Clearance Services Manager Andrew Spelman says imports of untreated corn seeds can contain a range of unwanted insects, mites, fungi, bacteria and viruses that could have a negative impact on agriculture and the environment in New Zealand.

"We go to great lengths at the border to protect New Zealand's environment and agricultural economy, and some people go to great lengths to avoid these measures for their own interest.

"We have biosecurity checks in place for a very good reason. Those who deliberately avoid these checks put peoples' livelihoods and our environment at risk. If people are looking to import seeds or plants, have a chat to MPI. We'll tell you how to do it legally and without all the risks."

The seeds were identified when the package went through an x-ray machine at Auckland Mail Centre. The declaration with the package listed the contents as pincushions with no mention of seeds or plant matter.

The package was destined for a relative of Mr Watson's. The relative told MPI investigators Mr Watson had used this method for importing seeds several times before.

MPI's mail inspection database showed packages to Mr Watson had been intercepted in the past. The rules around importing seed had been explained to him.

An inspection of Mr Watson's computer showed he had researched the correct process for importing seed on numerous occasions before he decided to smuggle seed illegally.

In 2012, New Zealand grown corn silage, grain, seed and sweetcorn was worth $380 million to the economy.

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