Despite the recent Queensland fruit fly scare and the fact biosecurity stuff numbers have been cut, Primary Industries Minister David Carter says New Zealand's defences against economy-wasting bugs are stronger than ever.
Labour today claimed the Government's "disgraceful" neglect of biosecurity was putting large swathes of the economy at risk from introduced pests.
Labour's agriculture spokesman Damien O'Connor produced numbers obtained from Mr Carter showing there were 91 fewer biosecurity officers now than when National came to power in late 2008 - a reduction of almost 20 per cent.
The number of dogs on active sniffer duty at Auckland Airport had also dropped from 20 to 13 over the same period.
"The new figures will come as a shock to orchardists and farmers who rely on an effective biosecurity system to protect their livelihoods and export ability", Mr O'Connor said.
"This is a disgraceful dereliction of duty. It puts the whole economy at risk, the natural biodiversity, the marine biology supporting aquaculture as well as the horticulture and agricultural industries."
Mr O'Connor said it was also "disturbing" that Mr Carter "sat on these figures for more than a week" during the recent Queensland fruit fly quarantine in Auckland.
But Mr Carter defended the reduction in biosecurity staff numbers, saying most of that was associated with the reduction in imports because of the global financial crisis.
The cost of biosecurity was recovered from importers.
"It was only fair then to drop staff numbers, otherwise the cost to importers would proportionately increase."
Further vacancies were not filled when the ministries of agriculture, fisheries, food safety and biosecurity were merged.
The new Ministry of Primary Industries was now stabilised, "and they are now advertising this weekend for a further 40 airport biosecurity staff".
Mr Carter said New Zealand's biosecurity defences were now stronger than ever despite fewer staff.
"We're far better targeted and better at profiling passengers and goods than we were in 2008".By Adam Bennett Email Adam