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Government under no cost constraint in containing myrtle rust, PM says

This, after samples from a third site in Northland are being tested for the fungal disease.

Jason Walls
Mon, 08 May 2017

Prime Minister Bill English says the government is under no cost constraints when dealing with the myrtle rust threat.

In his post-cabinet press conference, Mr English said the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) will not be limiting its efforts because of any funding concerns.

“This is an incursion – we need to contain the possibilities of it causing broader damage … if it spreads.”

Last week, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the outbreak of the fungal disease would probably cost the government millions of dollars.

Signs of strain have already been evident in the apiculture sector, with manuka honey producer Comvita’s shares falling 10% on Thursday because of the outbreak.

Apiculture NZ chief executive Karin Kos told NBR Radio she was concerned about the impact myrtle rust could have on the manuka honey sector.

Mr English reiterated the government’s concern today.

He says MPI is “throwing the kitchen sink at it” but says it’s hard to eradicate.

This morning, MPI director of intelligence, planning and coordination Geoff Gwyn told Morning Report traces of the disease had been found in another nursery in Kerikeri.

But, after an inspection in an MPI lab, the results show the plants were negative for myrtle rust, MPI later said in a statement. 

Mr Gwyn says the lab is also testing samples from a third location, which neighbours the original infected nursery, where suspected myrtle rust has been found.

“We're dealing with a very fluid situation here,” Mr Gwyn says.

“Given the ease with which this fungus can be spread on the wind, on contaminated footwear and clothing and on tools, our staff are following stringent protocols to avoid spreading the disease.”

He says there is still a lot that is not yet known about how it behaves in New Zealand conditions.

A team of 70 people from MPI, DOC, AsureQuality and the Northland Regional Council have been on the ground in Kerikeri over the weekend.

The main job continues to be inspecting the area in a 500m radius from the initially affected location for signs of myrtle rust.

Mr English says the government is working closely with the Australians to contain the spread.

The advice he has been given includes making sure untrained personnel are not working on containment efforts, as they can quite easily become a vehicle for spreading it.

Jason Walls
Mon, 08 May 2017
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Government under no cost constraint in containing myrtle rust, PM says