Kiwifruit import security criticised

By Rebecca Quilliam

File photo / NRC
File photo / NRC

Inadequate and deficient border processes, as well as failing to properly test all kiwifruit products, were major shortcomings in the way kiwifruit and horticulture equipment was brought into the country before the PSA-V outbreak, an independent report has found.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) released the findings of the review into import requirements and border processes following the outbreak of the kiwifruit vine disease, which has infected more than 1000 orchards.

As of the end of June, 37 per cent of kiwifruit orchards were infected, representing just under half of total kiwifruit hectares.

It will cost the industry up to $410 million in the next five years and up to $885 million over the next 15 years.

The review, written by the Sapere Research Group, found four main shortcomings in the way MPI, then Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, systems were applied to the industry.

It said the import requirements for kiwifruit pollen were inadequate; a formal risk analysis for pollen imports should have been carried out; there was too much reliance that PSA would be detected within the minimum six-month quarantine period; and a consignment of nursery stock was released from quarantine without being tested for the bacteria.

It said those shortcomings were primarily due to a systems failure rather than any one decision point.

It is still not known how PSA came into the country, but a tracing report is continuing to look for the origin.

MPI's director-general Wayne McNee today said the review made six recommendations to improve security measures, and the ministry would implement all of them.

The report recommends the ministry:

* prioritise resources towards risk management for economically significant industries;

* centralise the management of emerging risks;

* improve transparency of when organic products are coming into the country for the first time;

* ensure that border processes for imports of risk goods are robust;

* improve communication with industry and research organisations; and

* consider establishing a research fund that can be used to commission targeted biosecurity research.

Mr McNee said the ministry would report on progress to the Minister for Primary Industries in three months.

"While the review also says that it does not automatically follow that these shortcomings contributed to the entry of PSA-V into New Zealand, improvements are needed, and MPI is moving immediately to implement those improvements.''

He said that although improvements had been identified, New Zealand had a world class biosecurity system.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter welcomed the immediate action into the recommendations and said he would be monitoring the work closely.

Labour's biosecurity spokesman Damien O'Connor said the report proved that claims of a world class border control system had been "blown apart''.

"We have always been told the system is based on scientific analysis, but if the resources are not there to undertake proper scientific and risk-based assessments we will continue to have major incursions like PSA,'' he said.

"The National Government cut funding for biosecurity in 2009 to fund its other agendas, but the estimated $410 million cost of PSA alone is a huge price to pay for the Government's misplaced priorities.''

The Greens' biosecurity spokesman Steffan Browning said the report's recommendation to shift resources was not going to protect vital primary industries.

"The report's recommendation to move biosecurity resources to only a few key sectors will allow major biosecurity threats through the back door.''

He said biosecurity had a history of under-resourcing and often competent staff needed more support.

But Federated Farmers said it was convinced the review would lead to significant improvements at the border.

The group's vice-president and biosecurity spokesman William Rolleston said the review provided policy makers with a model for independently conducted post-border incursion investigations.

"We can give credit to the new Ministry for Primary Industries for opening itself up to soul searching analysis,'' he said.

"That said, it comes against a $410 million backdrop; the projected cost of this biosecurity failure.''

Dr Rolleston said the country also needed robust systems to identify emerging disease threats and developments.

- APNZ

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