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All need to work to prevent disease outbreaks

All New Zealanders needed to take responsibility for maintaining secure national borders, Agriculture and acting Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton said today.

He said it was vital for travellers to fill in their quarantine declaration cards correctly, to declare anything that might be a risk, and to tell others of the risks.

"All the biosecurity and border control measures in the world cannot stop someone deliberately smuggling in risk material ? as the RCD importation shows."

Mr Sutton said foot and mouth disease was a terrible disease for animals.

"It is vital for the economy, and all New Zealanders, that it doesn't get here."

If the disease did get to New Zealand, Mr Sutton said, our standard of living would drop by at least 25 per cent. Agriculture is the backbone of the New Zealand economy.

"It is vital that people returning home fill in their quarantine cards properly. These questions are asked for a reason. MAF officials work hard and quickly, so even if you do get directed to the red lane, you won't be delayed unduly.

"MAF has an excellent profiling system to identify risk passengers. As part of the work against foot and mouth, passengers who might be carrying risky goods ? such as meat ? have their bags x-rayed. All passengers from countries where there have been foot and mouth outbreaks ? such as Britain and Asia ? have their bags screened."

Mr Sutton said there were about 490 outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Asia reported last year, and it was likely there were more unreported cases.

"The Asian strain is virulent, and it is this strain wreaking havoc in Britain now. We have experience in keeping it out.

"However, we are not complacent about the risks. Britain is a developed country with high technology but it still got in. The outbreak there is horrific. We've all seen terrible pictures every night on our televisions, heard devastated British farmers on the radio.

"We all need to work together to keep this dreadful disease out of New Zealand. For most people, that means filling in quarantine cards correctly, not bringing in risky goods, and making sure their friends, relatives, and other visitors from overseas know about the border control rules as well.

"We have sent a number of our veterinary specialists to Britain, to help out at their request, but also to see whether there are lessons to be learned which will help us keep New Zealand disease-free."

Mr Sutton said MAF was already investigating one traveller known to have filled in her quarantine declaration card falsely, and action against others was pending.

The Government and MAF were taking the dangers of foot and mouth disease seriously. Steps had been taken right from the start of the outbreak in Britain to protect New Zealand.

All imports of meat, wool, dairy products, and other unprocessed animal products from Britain had been suspended two weeks ago when Britain alerted its trading partners, including New Zealand, of the outbreak.

Since then, all British passengers arriving in New Zealand have had their bags x-rayed to ensure they are not carrying food products or other risks. High-risk passengers are being interviewed and, where necessary, their clothing and equipment is disinfected.

Entry rules for equipment used on farms, such as shearing tools, had been tightened again, after they were loosened by the National Government.

MAF is compiling information to distribute to all vets and farmers to ensure they know what foot and mouth infections look like, and a public awareness campaign about the need to follow border control procedures is to be started.

Mr Sutton said he had asked MAF for suggestions on what was needed to ensure the risk of foot and mouth disease was reduced to as low as possible, and he would take those suggestions to Cabinet on Monday.

"I have discussed this with Finance Minister Michael Cullen, and he has said that in light of the disease outbreak, any request would be received sympathetically."


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