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Anderton thanked for spray defence

12 Dec 2007

The NZ Forest Owners Association has thanked forestry minister Jim Anderton for his defence of the painted apple moth and the Asian gypsy moth eradication programmes.

This follows the release of an Ombudsmens’ Office report criticising some aspects of MAF Biosecurity’s spray programmes in West Auckland and Hamilton between 1999 and 2004.

“It was not an easy call for the government to undertake controversial and costly spraying programmes. Forest owners greatly appreciate the minister’s resolve,” says chief executive David Rhodes.

“This is not to say that people were not affected. We also thank the many families which found themselves on the front-line of these eradication programmes and had to put up with disruption to their lives, some anxiety about the effects of the sprays and the presence of low-flying aircraft.

“In particular, we thank the handful who suffered skin and respiratory irritation and found it necessary to move out of their homes while spraying was underway.”

He says the tolerance and support of those involved has helped prevent a catastrophe.

“It may not be much consolation to those most affected, but all the evidence suggests that if the caterpillars had become established here they would have posed a much more serious health risk than the spray. Residents of areas like west Auckland and Hamilton, which are known for their parks and wooded suburbs, would have been particularly at risk.”

According to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation and other experts, tussock moths – an insect family which includes the Asian gypsy moth and the painted apple moth – present a considerable hazard to people.

Hairs on the caterpillars are very irritating to human skin and some people exhibit severe allergic reactions if they come in contact with them. This presents a problem not only when the caterpillars are present (they can hang on silken threads and drop onto people) but also when the caterpillars have become adults or died, as the hairs remain in the environment and can be inhaled.

Mr Rhodes says the caterpillars are among the most destructive pests of forests and shade, fruit and ornamental trees in the northern hemisphere.

“They would have a catastrophic effect on our exotic and native forests if they became established here, putting our $5 billion forest industry and national parks at risk.

“Such was the likely impact on the economy and the environment, these became the main justifications for the eradication programmes. This may have led some residents in spraying zones to believe their health was being ignored. This was definitely not the case.”

He says effective biosecurity is vital for New Zealand’s future and the forest industry takes it very seriously.

The Forest Owners Association recently commissioned an independent review by international experts of its own forest health surveillance programme. The conclusion delivered this month was that MAF and industry systems are world leading.

“The fact is that eradication is the only solution for pests that pose major economic, environmental and health threats to the country.

“At the same time, those families who find themselves on the front-line of any incurson response need to be kept well-informed so they know they are not being exposed to any undue risk for the benefit of the rest of the nation.”

He says it is very reassuring that the government is continuing to strengthen the country’s biosecurity resources and to make the hard calls when required.

For more information, contact David Rhodes: Tel 04-473 4769 (business), 027 495 5525 (mobile)