Horticulturists sentenced for the illegal importation of insects

Two horticulturists, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges related to the illegal importation of the predatory mirid bug, Macrolophus pygmaeus, appeared in the Auckland District Court today for sentencing.

Great Lake Tomatoes Limited, a horticultural business of Reporoa (“GLTL”), Zonda Resources Limited, a bio control company of Pukekohe, and its Director Terril Marais, had pleaded guilty in the Pukekohe District Court earlier this year to a variety of charges related to the illegal importation and distribution of the mirid bug, and of giving false information to an inspector.

Zonda Resources Ltd Director Ms Terril Marais, had her sentencing deferred. Her Honour Judge Cunningham said in Ms Marais case “it was one thing to flout the law but another to lie to a Ministry official about where the bug had come from.”  Ms Marais sentencing was deferred until 10 August 2010.

Judge Cunningham took into account the ability of Zonda Resources Ltd and Great Lakes Tomatoes Ltd to pay when penalties were imposed.

Great Lakes Tomatoes Ltd was fined a total of $30,000.00 – $20,000.00 for knowingly importing a new organism and $10,000.00 for knowingly buying unauthorised goods.  Zonda Resources Ltd was fined a total of $10,000.00 – $5000.00 for knowingly importing unauthorised goods and $5000.00 for knowingly selling unauthorised goods.

Judge Cunningham said, with regard to this prosecution denunciation and deterrence for both these offenders and others in the industry “this fine has to be significant they can’t flout the law and do as they please”.

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAF) Senior Adviser, George Gill, 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 programs.  This could affect the economic well-being of our agricultural and horticultural industries as well as New Zealand’s environment.

“Our investigations found Zonda Resources Limited had produced colonies of Macrolophus and sold them for whitefly control in commercial glasshouses.  It is concerning that the actions of a few individuals could put so much at risk.

“This case is particularly disappointing, because of the horticultural backgrounds of the defendants. 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.”

MAFBNZ initiated an incursion response in November 2007 after Plant and Food Research staff located the Macrolophus insect on a Zonda Resources property. The response was stood down on the basis of information supplied to MAF by Marais – that she had found the specimen in the Auckland Botanical Gardens in February

2007 and claimed to have inadvertently distributed the mirid bug to a number of greenhouses in New Zealand.

This changed on 22 April 2009 when MAF and Horticulture New Zealand each received an anonymous letter indicating an illegal importation of the mirid bug had occurred.  An email from the defendant to a supplier indicated that the bug had been supplied by a New Zealand grower and that, if asked, the explanation to be provided would be that the bug was found in the Auckland Botanical Gardens.

In July 2009, MAF investigations found further evidence that Macrolophus was deliberately imported into New Zealand without the appropriate approvals from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), as required under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.

Mr Gill says the continued deliberate propagation or release of Macrolophus is illegal under the HSNO Act and MAF will be enforcing this aspect of the Act which is designed to protect New Zealand’s environment from the risks posed by new organisms.

“Both ERMA and MAF take this sort of offending very seriously and hope this particular case will remind all New Zealanders that there are rules to be followed and these are there for a very good reason.“

Macrolophus species feed on a number of insects including plant pests such as whiteflies, aphids, leaf miners, thrips; and spider mites.  The bug can establish and develop at relatively low temperatures and is 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 develop and complete its life cycle by feeding on cultivated plants such as tomato, tobacco, capsicum and eggplant.  It has also been known to feed on black nightshade, a common weed found outside glasshouses in New Zealand.  Once established in high numbers, the bug can cause feeding damage to tomatoes, spoiling, amongst other things, the appearance of the fruit.


What did they import?

Information about Macrolophus

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