Federated Farmers is calling the Sapere Research Group review of the entry of Psa into New Zealand a “robust but positive wake up”.
Federated Farmers Vice-President and spokesperson on biosecurity Dr William Rolleston likening the slack border security to a householder scrimping on insurance.
Psa vines being burnt in Pyes Pa when the disease was first discovered in 2010.
“Even in tough economic times, Federated Farmers believes there should be more resources for biosecurity than just reprioritising current ones.
“We need biosecurity to be robust because it is our first and last line of environmental and economic defence. Any homeowner knows scrimping on insurance is a false economy when you need to claim against it. Incursions like Psa not only cost export revenue but jobs too.
Federated Farmers is convinced the independent and robust Sapere Research Group review into the entry of Psa will lead to significant improvements at the border.
“Biosecurity is a tangible feature driving our overall reputation as an exporter and as a destination. Tourism is a risk vector, but benefits from high levels of biosecurity being maintained. We suggest passenger and cargo levies could be used to build a response fund.
“While the report doesn’t mention it, we also need robust systems to identify emerging disease threats and developments.”
William says the former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was so confident in its import health standard for pollen, it said there was no peer-reviewed scientific evidence pollen was a pathway for bacteria.
It’s a view that contrasts strongly with the independent Sapere Research Group review of how Psa entered New Zealand. The review provides policy makers with a model for independently conducted post-border incursion investigations.
“The Sapere review cuts to the chase,” says William.
“We can give credit to the new Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for opening itself up to soul searching analysis. That said, it comes against a $410 million backdrop; the projected cost of this biosecurity failure.
“Government industry agreements are an opportunity for the MPI to integrate information and improve communication with industry. Yet the primary industries shouldn’t just leave biosecurity to government as ‘its job’. We are pleased this report confirms recent moves by the MPI to give farmers a greater say on border protection.
“One practical example of what Federated Farmers wants to see reinstated is the Animal and Plant Biosecurity Consultative Committees. Disbanded under the old MAF, they provided a valuable exchange of information between industry and the Ministry.
“We believe the MPI now has a golden opportunity to integrate them within Government Industry Agreement frameworks.”
The report points to kiwifruit pollen imports as a possible Psa import path.
It states the conditions of import were based on a wrong view that discounted pollen as a vector for bacteria imports. MAF staff also failed to recognise that plant contaminants, which are a recognised source of Psa, would inevitably accompany the consignments.
MAF’s response to a finding that live Psa could be detected on pollen from infected orchards was sub-standard and meant MAF missed an opportunity to initiate procedures to track the consignments of pollen that had already entered the country.
The process used to develop the kiwifruit pollen import requirements was deficient. The report states a formal risk analysis for pollen imports should have been carried out, but was not.
MAF is also criticised for failing to consult the industry before allowing the first pollen consignment into the country. It was not legally required to do so, but the lack of industry awareness of pollen imports may have compounded the consequences.
Considering the now economic consequences of failing to detect PSA at the border, MAF is also criticised for not even considering stopping imports of nursery stock from Psa-infected areas.
When the MAF testing regime used in quarantine was found unreliable for detecting Psa in symptomless plants, MAF’s response “was not sufficiently proactive”. No-one identified the need to track-down plants already given clearance.
The Sapere report also identifies specific areas of concern with how the import requirements were implemented at the border. A consignment of ‘anthers’ was incorrectly allowed into the country under the terms of a pollen import permit; consignments of gold kiwifruit were incorrectly allowed into the country in the absence of an Import Health Standard; and a consignment of nursery stock was released from quarantine without being tested for Psa.
The shortcomings identified in the report are not due to irrational or unreasonable decisions being made by individual MAF staff.
They are primarily due to the lack of a strategic view of the risk to the kiwifruit industry, a failure to adequately respond to changing circumstances, and the absence of effective working relationships between MAF, industry stakeholders and scientific researchers says the report.