health & science

Tough rules to stop hitchhiking stink bugs

Strict new rules aim to stop a bug which has been hitchhiking its way around the world from wreaking havoc in New Zealand.

The rules, proposed by the Ministry for Primary Industries, shift the responsibility for treatment of shipping containers from some countries to try and stop the brown marmorated stink bug from entering New Zealand.

The list of countries required to treat goods before export has increased from 18 to 33. All imported cargo relating to vehicles will need to be treated before export.

The rules, which could add to the cost of imports and the time it takes for goods to reach New Zealand, largely have the support of industry players.

“You’ve got to give it respect. It’s moving its way throughout a lot of countries by just doing what it does, and it’s getting very successful at what it does.”

Aspects such as heat treatment temperatures are now aligned between Australia and New Zealand to simplify treatment requirements for exporters. 

If the bug establishes itself in New Zealand it could cost the country billions, as well as infest homes. They would be able to survive throughout the North Island and in most of the South Island and could decimate horticultural crops.

Outside of East Asia where the stink bugs originate they have few predators to keep numbers under control. Its global spread is mainly through transported goods, and it has established itself in the US and Italy.

So far, no country has been able to eradicate stink bugs once they’ve established themselves. A group of 10 bugs arriving together could pose a serious threat within two years if let to breed unchecked.

This season, 123 live bugs have been found by border staff, with most coming in via ships.

MPI manager facilities and pathways Paul Hallett describes the stink bug as a great hitch-hiker.

“You’ve got to give it respect. It’s moving its way throughout a lot of countries by just doing what it does, and it’s getting very successful at what it does.”

The proposed changes add several European countries to the list of places where treatment is needed before goods can come into New Zealand.

“We haven't seen that many [bugs] out of Japan this season because we tidied up the rules and regulations leading into the season. We've seen bugs mostly out of Europe and the US, and it has been in mostly vehicles, machinery like excavators, caravans and trailers.”

When the weather cools, the bugs find a place to hunker down. Caravans are a favourite for the bug, with some new Italian caravans parked next to fields before export.

“These caravans are in a prime position, in a prime location and have great hidey holes that are nice, secure and warm and suit the bugs quite down to the ground.”

Shipping containers from Italy will now need to be treated prior to export which is a change to current rules.

The draft proposal points out there’s a risk even opening the containers for inspection in New Zealand runs the risk of live stink bugs escaping.

Hallett said as well as reducing risk the rule will speed up processing in New Zealand.

There are currently over 190 treatment providers approved in Europe and the US and MPI has been working with providers to educate them of the standards required.

“There are not going to be the issues that there are no treatment providers in Slovenia, or Belgium or the Netherlands, because we’ve actually approved providers there.”

He said feedback from importers has been mainly about the three- to four-week delay which might occur.

“Most importers are okay with the delays because they recognise that we don't want this pest … Some are not given that now some have an extra three or four weeks wait to get their goods.”

Ships getting turned away from New Zealand and Australian ports because of infestations increases cost “exponentially” and it's a cost the shipping lines have been carrying.

The alignment with Australia, where many ships bound for New Zealand also visit has reduced confusion.

"Australia requires heat treatment for instance at 50 degrees for 30 minutes and we require 56 degrees for 30 minutes."

Australia has lifted its standard to match New Zealands.

"That means that all these treatment providers in France and Belgium and Germany will only have to memorise one treatment instead of multiple treatments."

“At the end of the stink bug season - not being facetious - the stink bug might not know what the date is.”

Vehicle Industry Association chief executive David Vinsen said import industry members are supportive of the rules, and are considering sticking to them year-round, not just during the stink bug season of 1 September until 30 April.

“At the end of the stink bug season - not being facetious - the stink bug might not know what the date is.”

He said alignment of standards will make life simpler for importers.

“It will probably be a higher thresh-hold, but a common standard.”

 He sees the downside as added time and cost but said by heat-treating year round costs may even out.

Consultation on the proposed rules is open until June 3.

Read more:

Australia saves NZ from billion-dollar stink bug invasion

Samurai wasp ready to take on stink bugs

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