The first shipment from this year’s kiwifruit harvest is on its way to two key Asian markets.
The move is designed to mitigate the fallout from the illegal growing of Gold 3 in China.
About this time last year, Haoyu Gao – who was a kiwifruit grower in New Zealand – illegally sold cuttings of Gold 3 to growers in China. He was taken to court in NZ, convicted and fined $15 million for breaching the Plant Varieties Act. The sentencing judge described Gao’s actions as “premeditated, calculated and flagrant” and that he revealed himself to be a person who lacked a moral compass and does not place a high value on honesty.
Since then, Gao has moved to China and is understood to be running a ‘thriving business’.
Zespri’s chief Innovation and sustainability officer, Carol Ward, told Rural News that Zespri is concerned at the level of unauthorised Gold 3 in China.
“We are working though legal and government channels to have the conversation about how might we protect our IP and slow the spread of the illegal growing of Gold 3,” she says. “We have come to the assessment that working with the Chinese and investigating a commercial partnership with some Chinese growers may mitigate the spread of illegal plantings.”
Last year, Zespri put together a proposal to undertake a three-year commercialisation trial in China. This was put to Kiwifruit New Zealand, (KNZ) – the small, regulatory body whose role it is to make sure that Zespri complies with the rules governing the industry. If Zespri wishes to undertake any activity which is not ‘core business’ under the regulations or has an element of risk, it must first lodge its proposal with KNZ for an opinion.
It should be noted that KNZ cannot reject a proposal as such, but simply gave an opinion that Zespri is effectively is obliged to take account of. Incidentally, KNZ’s board is made up of a mix of elected grower representatives and government appointed members.
Ward says while KNZ deemed Zespri’s proposal commercialisation trial in China to be core business, it noted that there was some risk and needed direct support from growers before it could proceed.
She says rather than go ahead with a three trial, Zespri has decided to withdraw its original application and lodge a new one, which proposes a one-year trial, and this will go to KNZ – and ultimately growers – for approval.
“We will talk to our growers about it and explain the risks and make sure they fully understand the nature of the proposal,” Ward told Rural News. “At the end of the day, the growers who own Zespri have the absolute right to accept or reject this given the circumstances that we are in now.”
She says Zespri believes that if it does nothing, there is a risk that the illegal growing of Gold 3 will continue in China with serious consequences for NZ growers.
“Our best assessment is to try and work with some Chinese so that the spread of illegal Gold 3 does not continue.”
Ward says the plan is to lodge a new application with KNZ and then undertake an extensive consultation process with growers before conducting a vote in June.