Two decades of "misguided policies" led to the major shortcomings in New Zealand biosecurity system identified by a report published this week on the Psa kiwifruit virus, says an internationally-recognised horticulturalist.
Professor Emeritus Ian Warrington of Massey University predicts further incursions of disease and insect pests are inevitable and government agencies need more resources and a change of focus if they are to effectively combat the threats.
The report, by Sapere Research Group, was a review of New Zealand import requirements and border processes. It found the biosecurity system did not work as a whole and there was a lack of connectedness between the Ministry of Primary Industries (formerly Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry) and key stakeholders, as well as a lack of preparedness by the kiwifruit industry to anticipate and then deal with such an event.
Professor Warrington says the findings were no surprise. "It is a helpful warning that we need to enhance our systems before other sectors are put at risk. More money will be needed if the horticulture industry and the biosecurity services are to prepare for the inevitable repeat of similar incursions."
He says the focus needs to be on information gathering and risk management rather than just border control.
"It's all very well to focus on the point of entry, but that belies the fact that you are not gathering intelligence on what's happening globally and anticipating what action may need to be taken within New Zealand. Putting more people at the border will not necessarily resolve these issues."
He says constant change in the ministry means they no longer has the technical capability in the field to anticipate and deal with biosecurity risk. The same failings were apparent with the arrival of varroa bee mite.
"There has been two decades of restructuring of the government agencies responsible for biosecurity and a restructuring of science funding that has given us a user-pays science model, which deters people from working together to battle these problems," Professor Warrington says.
"The $25 million that has been spent on Psa is a relatively small sum, considering that this is a $1 billion export earner and that the direct cost to the kiwifruit industry will be more than $400 million over the next five years. Of course there will be other indirect costs - employment loss, impacts on the packing and transport industries, and others."
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