1 Mar 2013

MPI criticised for lack of readiness for pest incursion

8:45 am on 1 March 2013

Critics of New Zealand's biosecurity system have been quick to pick up on the findings of a report by the Auditor-General assessing the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) readiness for a major pest or disease incursion.

The report has identified serious weaknesses in some key areas.

The auditor general's report is based on MPI's previous responses to six incursions including didymo, PSA and kauri dieback.

Among its criticisms are that staff with little experience in strategic work have been charged with developing the ministry's surveillance programme, it does not have mechanisms in place to learn from the exercises it carries out and its IT systems are horrendously complex.

But it is the MPI's readiness for an outbreak of foot and mouth, which could devastate New Zealand's economy, that drew the most criticism.

The Auditor-General says the MPI has no plan for a worst-case scenario outbreak, no plan to distribute the vaccines its spent $8 million acquiring and no plan to dispose of stock carcasses.

The report also says New Zealand's scientific testing laboratories could quickly become swamped during a major outbreak.

Growers lack confidence - HortNZ

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock said while there have been improvements, growers still don't have confidence in the biosecurity response system.

Mr Silcock said MPI has good arrangements in place for dealing with fruit fly incursions and its response to the discovery of a single fruit fly in Auckland last year went well.

But he said the question is how effective the response would be if it had to deal with a biosecurity threat on a larger scale.

Mr Silcock says MPI has no plans or surveillance formally in place to give early warning about any other pests or diseases that might arrive in New Zealand.

Te Puke kiwifruit orchardist Rob Thode is highly critical of the ministry's response to the kiwifruit vine killing disease PSA, saying its slow response allowed the disease to spread.

He says it was disastrous, and the ministry left orchards sitting infected for months even after the testing had been done.

"In my case my orchard had a positive test in November 2010 but didn't get removed until June 2011, which basically meant it was sitting there infecting all the orchards around it for six months."

O'Connor says report shows biosecurity lax

Labour Party agriculture spokesperson Damien O'Connor said too many biosecurity staff have been cut and the report shows the Government's claims New Zealand has a world class biosecurity system are false.

Mr O'Connor says 91 front line staff have been taken off biosecurity around the country, and there have been cutbacks in planning and the strategic part of biosecurity.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said continuing to improve biosecurity is his top priority and he will carefully consider the report's findings.

Mr Guy said the Government is conscious of how important it is to protect the border and believes a large amount of work has gone into planning for foot and mouth disease.