Early detection of an unwanted virus – the Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) – in a small tomato seed lot has allowed quick action to be taken to contain and prevent it taking hold in New Zealand. All the seeds and resulting plants and plant material have been destroyed.
The virus has had a huge impact on tomato growing in countries where it is present. It is easily transmitted on people, plants and equipment and is very difficult to get rid of. It also affects capsicum.
TomatoesNZ pointed out the need to strengthen seed import requirements and new certification and testing measures were put in place early last year to try an minimise the risk of it arriving here.
In early December, industry alerted Biosecurity New Zealand to the presence of ToBRFV in seeds imported from Israel. Although these seeds were imported with a phytosanitary certificate declaring them to be free of ToBRFV based on testing completed offshore, further testing identified a very low level of infection. The industry needs to acknowledge the quick reporting of the seed company, and cooperation of the affected parties, as well as MPI’s quick action to eliminate any risk in this case.
Biosecurity New Zealand has been able to account for all of the imported seeds and the plants grown from them. There have been no symptoms or positive tests for ToBRFV from the plants grown from the seeds, which have been restricted to three greenhouse sites in Auckland. While there is no reason to suspect there has been any spread of the disease, all the plants grown from the contaminated seed have been destroyed to manage any residual risk. The three greenhouse sites have also been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
As a further precaution, Biosecurity New Zealand destroyed some tomato plants grown from different, uncontaminated seeds that were grown in close proximity to the affected plants at one of the sites.
TomatoesNZ and the GIA partners mentioned above will be contributing a “cost share” towards the biosecurity response costs, which will include any compensation claims from the affected parties. MPI pays 50% of the cost of the response, and the GIA partners split the other 50%. The total response cost is not yet known; however, it will be a lot less that what an outbreak of this virus would have cost the industry.
Tomatoes NZ’s share of the response costs will be paid from funds that are already being collected under the Fresh Tomato Biosecurity Levy. These levy funds are already also going towards response costs for Fruit Fly (2019) and Tomato Red Spider Mite (2020).