17 Jun 2014

Lab 'will improve disease response'

1:48 pm on 17 June 2014

A new high security disease testing laboratory will improve New Zealand's ability to respond to foot and mouth and other serious animal diseases, a senior scientist says.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy at the announcement of a new secure laboratory in Upper Hutt.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy at the announcement of a new secure laboratory in Upper Hutt. Photo: RNZ

The $65 million facility will replace the existing biocontainment lab at Wallaceville in Upper Hutt.

It will be equipped to the latest international standards and a senior scientist at the Ministry for Primary Industries' existing lab, Dr David Pulford, said the upgrade will allow it to respond to a major disease outbreak faster and more effectively .

"We have a lot of buildings on the site here. They are all separated by long corridors. What it means is that we are going to be bringing all the facilities together into one compact area. We are going to have state of the art PC3 facilities.

"It's also going to give us the capability of having a laboratory that's dedicated for a huge response, like a foot and mouth disease response. You know, that's a priority for New Zealand. What that means is that physically we'll have two floors that can be appropriated for doing FMD (foot and mouth disease) testing."

Dr Pulford said the existing facilities had been able to cope with smaller scale biosecurity responses, but would be stretched by a major outbreak.

"We've had a lot of responses in recent years, a few quite recently. Fortunately they've been small and we've been able to deal with them, but in something like an FMD response we would have to completely dedicate the whole lab for doing that kind of work and we would have to get a lot of people in from other laboratories as well. It would be a huge logistical effort."

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said says the Government's decision to upgrade the lab was partly in response to last year's report from the auditor general.

It found serious weaknesses in New Zealand's preparedness for biosecurity incursions, in particular a foot and mouth disease outbreak that could halt New Zealand's multi-billion dollar trade in dairy, meat and other animal products.

Mr Guy said the country needed to keep ahead of all exotic diseases, whether be foot and mouth, brucella, avian flu, and all can be tested for at the laboratory.

"It's vitally important that we can continue to export to around 200 countries around the world and the $65 million is a significant investment that's going to future-proof and allow our primary industry exporters to coninue to do what they do very well."

Construction of the new laboratory will begin next year.