Community-based penalties for heritage plant importations

An Opawa man’s heritage seeds project – aimed at securing the future of New Zealand’s food supply – has drawn a sentence of community detention and community work.
Christchurch District Court Judge Tony Couch told 30-year-old Kyle Jonathan James Arthur that his Biosecurity Act breaches in bringing in authorised plant material had been “serious offending”.

He said: “This offending was carried out in full knowledge that it was contrary to the law of New Zealand, and it involved a high degree of premeditation.”

Arthur had imported 364 seeds, corms, and seedlings capable of being propagated. When some early shipments were intercepted, he arranged for more shipments to come in mislabelled to avoid detection.

He admitted four charges under the Biosecurity Act – three of acquiring unauthorised goods and one of selling four unauthorised jackfruit plants. The offences carry maximum penalties of five years’ jail or $100,000 fines.

Arthur said he was bringing in wild, heritage, and heirloom, non-genetically modified plants and seeds in an effort to protect New Zealand’s food security. He was worried that convictions might prevent him from travelling to Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific to find plants and arrange to import them legally.

But Judge Couch refused the request from newly appointed defence counsel Nikita Mitskevitch to reopen an application for a discharge without conviction, which had been refused when Arthur pleaded guilty in May. The judge said the issue had already been decided and he would go ahead with the sentencing.

Mr Mitskevitch said that since his earlier hearing, Arthur had received information from Taiwan and India telling him that his convictions would affect his ability to travel to those countries.

“He has experienced bouts of depression,” said Mr Mitskevitch. “He has essentially thrown his life behind this task, and upon his conviction any chance of him being able to advance down this path will essentially be over.”

Judge Couch said Arthur’s actions had exposed New Zealand eco-system to an unacceptable risk.

He cited the damage done by intentional introductions such as gorse, and unintentional introductions of didymo or Queensland fruit fly.

But he accepted that even though Arthur had sold some of the plants, his motives had not been malevolent or selfish. He had been motivated by a genuine concern that plant diversity and purity in New Zealand was endangered by genetic engineering and genetic modification of species.

He said Arthur would have to accept that he might now have to apply for visas to visit some countries and they might not allow him to enter.

He imposed six months of community detention when Arthur will have to stay home every night, and 100 hours of community work.