Time to stop importing pollen

I want to support Federated Farmers in their raising the possibility that imported pollen may be a vector for the introduction of PSA disease in kiwifruit. This imported pollen is used to artificially pollinate kiwifruit and includes pollen from countries with PSA disease.

Beekeepers are already alarmed at the arrival in NZ of the potentially devastating parasite Nosema cerenae.  There is a risk that this devastating new parasite could have come in on imported pollen as it has only been found in bees in the last six weeks. (How ironic if in importing pollen in to NZ we were to put at risk our bee industry.) Nosema cerenae kills bees through diarrhoea—it’s the reason the bee industry here has been fighting to keep Aussie honey out of NZ. Australia imports honey from China and Sth America and then re-package it as Australian (because they have a Made in Australia rule—50% has to be from Oz), and this parasite is found in these places. The imported pollen in the Bay of Plenty is from Chile so therefore it would be an easy assumption to make that it carried in n. cerenae.

Nobody is saying that this imported pollen is certainly the source of PSA disease in New Zealand, and the Minister’s calls for calm heads and caution are absolutely appropriate. But in this case caution surely dictates a halt to this trade. It seems bizarre for us to be importing pollen at all, but at least a temporary halt should be put in place immediately.

For me this highlights two of the points I made in my speech about PSA disease: 1. our headlong rush into global free trade has resulted in a massive increase in imports, bringing with them a massive increase in biosecurity risks: and 2. a biosecurity approach based on risk profiling, sampling, and detecting only what we can see seems, at best, antiquated (positioned historically some time before the invention of the microscope).

[Edit - it is Made in Australia rule not product of Australia rule. My bad — Frog]

14 thoughts on “Time to stop importing pollen

  1. Most plant diseases require a variety of factors to be operating for the disease to take hold. Obviously running a genetically uniform monoculture is going to make the disease spread rapidly. But if we are going to be dependent on introduced organisms for our economy then we are probably better off keeping the biodiversity of introduced organisms as low as possible.

    Presumably PSA originated in Asia, like kiwfruit, maybe there are other microorganisms – slime moulds or bacteriophages or something – that keep it in check through competition or predation?

    Introduced organisims usually do quite well for a time as they escape the predators and diseases that keep them in check in their natural ranges. Then the diseases catch up with them and they decline. Hedgehogs are supposed to be declining in NZ as diseases spread.

    Honeybees are another case – after Varroa spread into Wellington I noticed more native bees on Hebes – I asked an entomologist and he agreed that Varroa was probably reducing colonies of feral honeybees and releasing native bees from competition. Bad for beekeepers, good for native bees.

    Presumably we could use a biodiversity approach to restricting PSA and other imported diseases but would that mean importing all the microorganisms associated with the wanted organism so it could establish a “natural” ecology here? And importing all the risks that those organisms might hold for native organisms? We might be happy enough when it’s an unwanted animal that gets hit by a new disease – like possums or hedgehogs – but when its honeybees or kiwifruit there is a big economic loss balanced against a small ecological gain.

  2. Another point. Artificial pollinating is cutting corners, and this corner was not even a blind one, and a crash has occured. Cutting corners when you can see if anything is coming is fine if nothing is coming, but imported pollen with disease spores is like cutting corners with knowledge that something is possibly coming. In driving you lose your license for less. Some people, including in MAF-BNZ need to lose their license.

  3. Insider, your question re biodiversity is off target. I was refering to biosecurity, meaning the protection from risk of unwanted living organisms, eg varroa, Psa, painted apple moth, GE plants etc. However biodiversity as Todd I think has suggested is important in the sward and biological diversity of plants, invertebrates and micro-organisms above and below ground. The greater the diversity, the greater the balance, and reduction in events such as the kiwifruit industry is currently experiencing. It is going to be very interesting to see what the management techniques of the different orchards are, and to what degree each are effected. I will take a punt on the properties with very active and diverse flora and fauna being less affected by Psa but lets see.
    When I was managing a small kiwifruit block, we didnt import any pollen into the property beyond what the resident bees might have, and grew male plants over the females and then summer pruned them back after they had achieved their primary purpose for the season. I believe that importation of pollen from overseas was always a timebomb for bringing a new pest/disease into NZ. Now unfortunately, importing pollen into an orchard from off site NZ plants may also bring disease. It seems just plain careless of MAF to be supporting continued use of artificial (processed pollen)around ‘clean’ orchards unless an absolute guarantee of the pollen having NO disease spores is able to be given. If disease spore exists in pollen then of course if conditions are suitable that disease will develop unless the biological diversity has some ability to cobble it up or outcompete.

  4. Evidence? PSA appears to have been around for a while, we don’t don;t where it has come from – could be from rootstock – but till now has hardly been uncontrollable.

    I wasn’t only referring to PSA alone insider.

    Do you want to ban semen or even live imports that diversify the genetic base of our herds?

    If we can undertake that diversity ourselves (which we can) without the need to import foreign material that runs the risk of carrying pests or diseases, then yes! Banning the importation is an effective solution to retaining our infrastructure that we rely on. This already occurs in a limited way, albeit ineffectively.

    Flowers result from a plant wanting pollination from another plant so that genetic material is shared. There will be a naturally occurring insect if not a bee that pollinates Kiwifruit plants. We used to use bumblebees in the orchard I worked in. Pollination does not increase the amount of flowers, although it does allow those flowers to become fruit. Sprayed pollination does not increase the capacity of the plant to produce more flowers, or to my knowledge more fruit.

    Biodiversity is often not effective because of herbicide and pesticide spraying, which in my opinion is the reason we have such devastating plant diseases as PSA.

  5. @Todd

    “Importing “genetic stock” has meant an increase in being more diverse in uncontrollable foreign diseases”

    Evidence? PSA appears to have been around for a while, we don’t don;t where it has come from – could be from rootstock – but till now has hardly been uncontrollable. Given kiwifruit are foreign plants it’s entirely likely PSA is of foreign origin, but so are sheep and cattle and all their accompanying diseases. Do you want to ban semen or even live imports that diversify the genetic base of our herds?

    If I understand biology correctly, fruiting is the result of pollination, so increase the number of flowers pollinated and you increase your fruit volume and ultimate crop size and value. Only female plants fruit, so for natural pollination you need to carry unproductive male plants. Bees apparantly don’t seem to like kiwifruit so are not very efficient pollinators, organic or not. I can see the attraction of spray pollination.

  6. Insider

    Importing genetic stock would make that culture more diverse.

    Importing “genetic stock” has meant an increase in being more diverse in uncontrollable foreign diseases. Not a good plan in my book. Spraying pollen does not usually increase flower production; it’s simply used to help pollinate existing flowers. This would be employed to get a consistent and even rate of production that comes online all at the same time. Although bees from hives could undertake the task… there is currently too much spraying for most apiarists to risk their bees. Most apiarists I know hate kiwifruit orchardists, I can understand why.

    Although I might be mistaken, I do not believe organic orchards utilize a different variety of Kiwifruit vines. Creating a healthy biodiversity that naturally pollinates such varieties instead of utilizing a comprehensive spraying system for pest and disease management as well as pollination requirements is by far more effective and safe. In light of the recent crises, biodiversity has been proven the most cost effective and sustainable way to go. If this is Green sloganeering, I guess I’m on the right blog site then.

  7. Steffan

    Sorry but I think you are being simplistic in your assumptions and sensationalism – “brewed up”, “sprayed around”, “higher concentrations of contamination”

    There’s just no evidence to support your view, indeed the contrary in that New Zealand sourced pollen pre-dating imports has been found to have PSA. And even its presence isn’t a sign it is a transmission vector.

    I’m all in favour of a temporary ban, but not forever if there is no risk.

    And quite where biodiversity comes into this I’m not sure. We’re talking about monocultures of an imported species. Importing genetic stock would make that culture more diverse. Sounds like you are just spouting green slogans.

    @Todd
    From what I’ve read the pollen is sprayed due to lack of male or female flowers in orchards. Do organic growers have different type of plants?

  8. The difference is that where the pollen was imported from has had that problem for a long time and the people who imported it new about that problem. I wonder how much those really intelligent people get paid?

    If farming and horticultural practices looked after the ecology, there would be no need to import pollen.

    I wonder how many organic kiwifruit orchards have this problem? There is something to be said for less spraying and using local apiarists bees as pollinators. Considering the cause of this crisis, utilizing biodiversity has been proven right in my book.

  9. Insider, your simplistic approach fails to recognise biosecurity threats. Wind blown pollen from huge distances is not exactly the same as something brewed up and sprayed around locally with higher concentrations of contamination etc. The seasonal difference is not as relevant in this issue. NZ pollen is available and can be increased to supply the local kiwifruit industry. Any unecessary imports, further risk biodiversity and our primary production sectors.

  10. Pollen is just genetic material, a bit like seeds. We import and export thousands of tonnes of such every year exploiting the seasonal differences to minimise gaps in seasons. Where is the difference?

    PS I suspect the westerly winds import large quantities of pollen every year.

  11. On the topic of whats really Aussie made and whats not, I heard recently that Chinese pork can be imported here, processed here, and sold as 100% NZ Pork? I hope I’m being misled..

  12. My dealings with MAF-Biosecurity NZ over genetic engineering breaches show that they will close rank and engage in damage control to cover their own short comings, however they have a very good capacity for deep reviews/investigation of incidents such as this. The politics at senior manager and CEO level manipulate the results. Another problem is the officials further down the pecking order, working in ‘silos’ and not considering potential problems past their immediate responsibility or understanding.
    We have had MAF-BNZ saying that GE brassica pollen would not drift more than 3 metres in Canterbury when there is oodles of evidence that it can go for huge distances and even when nearby there was a windblown tree. Now they say that pollen containing the Psa bacteria hadnt been shown to spread Psa. Spraying a bacteria spore onto a plant will of course infect the plant if conditions suit. Apart from occassionally importing new queen bees that can be quarantined, it is reckless and unecessary to have been importing bee/honey products into NZ.

  13. It seems bizarre for us to be importing pollen at all,

    Needing to do so would indicate a massive imbalance in our ecology. That imbalance needs to be looked at and corrected.

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