NZKGI Chief Executive
Bio-security is the hot topic at the moment with the Fruit Fly find in Auckland.
The question everyone is asking is: how secure are our borders from bio-security risks from other countries? After all it was only in November 2010 that we found we had Psa and then in May fruit fly.
First some facts. Initially only one male fruit fly had been found. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one fruit fly doesn’t make a fruit fly incursion. You need some female fruit flies as well. Very fortunately this is not a good time of year for fruit flies to breed. They apparently like to mate around dusk and need warm temperatures over 16 degrees Celsius.
But one fruit fly is one fruit fly too many. The location of the find would indicate that this fruit fly came in on an Australian flight with a passenger or in the passenger’s luggage. Although international air travel is a significant risk, the even greater risk is our sea ports. But that’s a topic for another article. New Zealand used to operate 100 per cent x-ray procedures for passengers’ luggage – this meant that everyone’s luggage was x-rayed for fruit. It doesn’t anymore.
We also use beagles (detector dogs) to sniff out fruit, but the beagles are not always on duty. For example Wellington International Airport has not had a beagle on duty since September last year. Rotorua and Hamilton International Airports only have beagles on duty every so often. Not every international flight into Auckland is met by beagles.
Better managing risks
Late last year New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated raised this biosecurity predicament with the Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry MAF (now called the Ministry of Primary Industries). This is the Government department responsible for New Zealand’s Biosecurity. This is some of what he said in reply:
“As you are aware, MAF is making changes at the border to better manage the biosecurity risks posed by incoming passengers, goods and craft.
“Part of the changes includes the removal of the obligation for MAF to x-ray screen or physically search all international passenger baggage entering New Zealand. This change enables MAF to better target resources to biosecurity risk.
“In the trans-Tasman environment in particular, MAF has implemented the direct exit Lane at international airports. This allows low risk compliant passengers to exit the airport more quickly while MAF can focus its efforts and become more sophisticated at targeting passengers who are more likely to carry risk goods and toughen up on non-compliant passengers and criminal behaviour.
“MAF will still continue interacting and checking all travellers from Australia but may use a range of tools and intelligence to determine if they are carrying risk goods rather than relying only on X-ray screening or physical searches. The range of tools may include x-ray screening and physical searches, but also may include detector dogs, risk assessment, risk profiling, social marketing campaigns and requiring passengers to declare any biosecurity risk goods when entering New Zealand. This more targeted approach gives MAF a better chance of finding items that pose a genuine high risk amongst thousands of international passengers that enter New Zealand every day.
“MAF considers these interventions effective at preventing fruit fly from entering via the passenger pathway at all airports. Regardless of where the airport is located, the requirements for passengers entering New Zealand are the same.”
Once we have got through the fruit fly find this will all be open for further review.
To finish off I want to stress how disastrous a fruit fly incursion in the Bay of Plenty would be. In 2007 HortNZ commissioned a study into the economic impact of a fruit fly incursion in the Bay of Plenty. It shows the potential for the loss of more than 3,400 jobs and $820 million in lost earnings in the first year of a fruit fly incursion. This is very serious not only for kiwifruit but for the entire region. So once the current fruit fly find is resolved some very hard questions will be asked about our bio-security.