The New Zealand government has tightened its inspection regime for imports of used cars, after checks on vehicles from Japan revealed that many were carrying gypsy moth eggs, whose hungry larvae are notorious for stripping vegetation.

In its new import rules that are due to be implemented in March, Wellington is insisting that inspectors specifically ensure that eggs of this moth are not lurking in a used car.

The regulations also provide for pre-shipment inspections to be carried out by the exporting country's authorities, and where this happens, local plant protection officials have to be involved.

The new guidelines insists that they issue a phytosanitary certificate, that specifically states that gypsy moth eggs are not present and that the inspections are carried out no earlier than 12 days before a car is shipped.

If a pre-shipment inspection has not been carried out, then New Zealand officials must check cars within 12 hours of arrival.

A New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry statement said: "The revised import health standard addresses the need to more explicitly reduce the risks associated with pre-shipment and on-arrival inspection arrangements.

"By introducing clear time limits for these inspections, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has strengthened the current requirements that every used vehicle entering New Zealand is inspected and decontaminated as required."

They also insist that where insects and plants are found in a used car during a pre-shipment inspection, the New Zealand government is informed.

The proposals have been confirmed, despite the publication of research suggesting that gypsy moths do not pose a serious threat to the country's forests.

Author: Dave Moore is motoring editor of the Press, a regional daily newspaper published in Christchurch, New Zealand