The report released this week by the Office of the Auditor-General delved into New Zealand’s biosecurity arrangements following the establishment of the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) on 30 April 2012, which brought a number of government departments together into one entity. It was part of a range of work, looking at how public entities prioritise work, develop necessary capabilities and skills and use information to identify and address future needs.
The OAG found that MPI and its predecessor organisations responsible for biosecurity have been, “by and large”, successful at responding to incursions, dealing with between 30 and 40 incursions every year.
“They have developed generally high-trust relationships with partners by working together on responses and have improved biosecurity by sharing knowledge and fostering innovative practice.”
However, there are areas that can be done better, the auditor-general Lyn Provost believes. The report recommends that all biosecurity planning is made more realistic, “by ensuring that plans reflect likely constraints on resources and reflect more accurately the capacity available to deliver them.” Response plans need to be completed for high -risk organisms, including foot and mouth disease (FMD) that should be reviewed at regular intervals.
In particular, OAG recommendations include MPI preparing better for a potential FMD outbreak by building on Exercise Taurus – a nationwide FMD simulation carried out in 2012 – and do more testing and simulation. It found that early testing of a potential, and untested, bottleneck is required at the Animal Health Laboratory’s for FMD disease readiness, in addition to deciding what to do with carcase disposal across a range of outbreak sizes and creating a plan for how a vaccine would be used, in the event of an outbreak.
MPI staff capabilities and workforce planning also need working on, along with the creation, use and storage of information by preparing a formal approach to information governance.
Recommendations were also made in the report to make contracting simpler, faster and more efficient for response partners and to make changes to the Biosecurity Response Services contract and the National Biosecurity Network to reflect its new organisational structure and operating environment. In addition, performance should be measured to ensure improvement is made, the OAG said.
Report no surprise
The report wasn’t a surprise for the red meat industry’s meat exporters and farmers, as work had been underway on improvements since the first nationwide Operation Taurus FMD simulation last year. This was followed by a joint-government and industry report into the current readiness for FMD.
Biosecurity is at the top of priorities for the new Minister, who says that his department will be considering all the recommendations carefully.
Input from meat companies will be needed in the event of a disease incursion to New Zealand and they are keen to be involved in discussions, says the Meat Industry Association’s economic and trade strategy manager Dan Coup.
Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Scott Champion said his organisation is confident the analysis work that has already been done and the co-operation and support of the livestock industries have led to a step-change in understanding and motivation to ensure that priority risks are adequately managed.”
B+LNZ is aware that no border can ever be 100 percent secure and recognise that any incursion would require massive mobilisation of the country’s resources, both industry and government.
“To do this integrated planning is essential,” says Champion.
Federated Farmers says the report is setting the right direction. “This is an important and timely report given FMD would not only cripple pastoral farming, but it would hit almost every New Zealander in their pocket,” says Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers biosecurity spokesperson.
The pastoral sector wants to have an equal voice in preparedness planning, “and if the worst should happen, its execution,” he says.