Sunday musings

We live on an island, right? (For the purposes of this argument we are one island – Fortress New Zild.) Right. So keeping out bad stuff that will harm our precious growing environment and crops shouldn’t be that hard, right? Right.

So why do we keep having to deal with this stuff?

There’s a well-established rumour among the beekeeping community that it was a beekeeper who brought the parasitic varroa mite into New Zealand by illegally importing a queen bee … that turned out to be infected. The rumour goes on to say that he was one of the first to go out of business.

Federated Farmers are saying that wild bee colonies, including native bees, have gone … and won’t be back, thanks to varroa. Read more about that here.

In the NZ Herald last week was a story about kiwifruit seeds being illegally imported with a container of household goods and believed to have been grown since 1999! The Ministry of Primary Industries has finally caught up with it all and is removing and destroying the plants.

The arrival of Psa has been investigated, and quite clear allegations made in some quarters, as to exactly how the disease arrived in Te Puke, where it was first detected in 2010.

And let’s be clear, it’s not one person that’s affected but the lives and livelihoods of a whole raft of people from the producers to forklift drivers on the wharf, it’s losses in export earnings and a muddying of our reputation in international marketplaces.

So what’s wrong? Why are our biosecurity laws, so stringent for the home gardener, not working for commercial crops? And while TV programmes like Border Patrol lead us to believe it may be a case of “new chums” and language barriers threatening our biosecurity, the cases of varroa and Psa would suggest otherwise.

So let’s pause and think next time we go overseas and consider stowing away a seed or cutting in our luggage or not declaring stuff as we re-enter the country. There are some really nasty diseases and pests out there that these blessed isles know nothing about … yet.

Take, for instance, citrus greening, a bacterium spread by insects. It stunts the development of oranges, stops them turning orange and makes them sour. It is rife in Asia and Brazil and has spread to the United States where it has affected the prime orange-growing areas of Florida and California.

One Florida orange grower has been working hard since it arrived in his orchard in 2005 to try and find a solution, preferably one that doesn’t involve applying ever-increasing amounts of pesticide as is the case at present. So he turned to science.

This (long) article in a recent New York Times is worth reading, not least because of its profile of the GM food debate in the US.

As we have learned to our cost, geographical isolation is no safety barrier. And once we’ve got it, we’ve got it for good. Take heed and do the right thing. Here endth the lesson.


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