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Mice Infestation Delays Europe's First Kiwi Shipment of the Year

Zespri reefer ship
File image courtesy Zespri

Published Apr 24, 2024 8:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

An unknown share of a shipload of New Zealand kiwifruit will have to be destroyed because of a mice invasion in the holds of a reefer vessel, according to the cargo owner, Zespri International. 

Zespri said that its first shipment of the 2024 season to Europe has been set back by the discovery of mice. The pests were found during a standard clearance process in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Following the discovery of the infestation on the unnamed vessel, the company said it has taken the decision to quarantine the fruit as inspections continue. All the affected fruit will have to be set aside and destroyed. 

Zespri says that it takes fruit quality incredibly seriously, and assured that no fruit will be released unless both the company and regulators are confident that it is in good shape. Reports indicate there were about 1.2 million trays of SunGold kiwifruit onboard the chartered vessel, which was the first voyage to the European market for the 2024 season. It represents about 0.5 percent of the company's expected crop this year. 

“We have a proven track record over 20 years of providing only the highest quality fruit and building a brand people trust and we won't compromise on that. This is the first time in more than 20 years that we have encountered this issue,” said Jason Te Brake, Zespri Chief Operating Officer.

He added that the company is working with the shipping company and insurers to understand the cause of the invasion and prevent any recurrence. 

Following the discovery of the mice, Zespri has pushed back the start of the season in Europe by a week, with a second charter vessel due to arrive in Zeebrugge on Saturday. That consignment will also undergo an inspection process before being released to the market.

Zespri, which is 100 percent owned by kiwifruit growers and has the statutory right to export virtually all New Zealand kiwifruit, is projecting a bumper 2024 export season. It has 63 charter vessels lined up to ship about 695,000 tonnes (up from 51 charter vessels last year)

The company uses traditional reefer ships with fruit stored in holds (noncontainerized). The season includes three services to Northern Europe, 14 to the Mediterranean, four to North America's West Coast and 42 to Asia, with the remaining volume to be shipped using container services.

During the 2023 financial year, Zespri posted global operating revenue of US$2.5 billion from exporting the fruit, which is New Zealand’s leading horticulture export.