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Veterinary Association Conference - Hobbs Speech

23 June 2001 Hon Marion Hobbs Speech Notes

Opening Address To NZ Veterinary Association Conference, Quality Hotel, Hamilton, June 23 1.40pm

Thanks for invitation to open your conference.

Gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the partnership, which exists between MAF's biosecurity operations and yourselves as veterinarians.

Just over a week ago the FMD scare at a Te Kuiti meatworks tested our reflexes.

Ministers were called from the House to be briefed - a blood draining experience believe me.

MAF vets sent to both the plant and the Taihape farm from which the cow came.

We took the situation very seriously and activated immediately New Zealand's exotic disease response system.

We get between 12 and 20 of these alerts every year but seldom, thankfully, do they make the media. You saw the immediate effect on the $ when the rumour went round.

By 5pm we were in a position to conclude that foot and mouth was not present.

In the two to three hours before that MAF:

- Implemented gate control at the meat works preventing all animals and product getting in or out

- Put on standby a field operations response team

- Prepare to implement road blocks around the farm

- Had a team ready to trace animal movements on and off the farm

- Had patrol vets ready to visit neighbouring farms and other high-risk properties

Event reinforced the need for continuing vigilance by all New Zealanders.

Without being complacent I think we should acknowledge just how well we are served by our biosecurity professionals--NZ and MAF's expertise is second-to-none.

Our life blood is agriculture and trade. We must be ever vigilant against all sorts of disease, but particularly foot and mouth.

We came to Britain's aid in the awful tragedy. Our expertise is still being used.

The coalition government has beefed up our biosecurity defences more than once since coming to power.

New projects include:

The development of a comprehensive Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand;

Assessment of biosecurity risks to indigenous flora and fauna;

Preparation of a comprehensive risk analysis on imported sea containers; and

Investigation into new methods of decontaminating imported sea containers.

The following measures have been taken recently to enhance biosecurity:

The purchase of nine new soft-tissue X-ray machines to ensure that all passengers entering New Zealand have their baggage searched or X-rayed.

Employment of additonal quarantine staff (an extra 77 full-time and eight part-time).

Training of 11 new detector dog teams.

Accelerating the introduction of instant fines for passengers making false quarantine declarations. These were introduced last Monday.

Enhancing the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)’s capacity to receive and respond to reports of exotic disease.

The Role of Veterinarians in Biosecurity

New Zealand's biosecurity programmes operate:

Before the border, with MAF veterinarians leading risk analyses, which are recognised as international benchmarks; and import health standard development for risk goods prior to import.

At the border, with MAF Quarantine Service operating passenger and goods clearance procedures involving sniffer dog teams, X-ray technology, and physical searches. MAF veterinarians supervise quarantine facilities for higher risk imports.

After the border, with MAF and contractors delivering disease surveillance programmes and exotic disease contingency programmes, and through the development of pest management strategies to deal with endemic disease.

Early detection of exotic disease is critical to achieving control efficiently and effectively. Veterinarians play a very important role in surveillance systems for disease detection. For example:

Private veterinarypractitioners work with farmers to identify and investigate any unexplained morbidity or mortality, or drop in production.

Veterinarians work as expert diagnosticians in veterinary diagnostic laboratories.

Veterinarians are employed in meat works. The first detection of FMD in the UK during the recent outbreak was during ante-mortem inspection of pigs in an abbatoir. (The Te Kuiti alert came from a worker in the boning room). This emphasises the importance of ante-mortem inspection as a biosecurity measure as well as a food safety measure.

Veterinarians within MAF and its contractors, including AgriQuality, Asure and Massey University, work together on surveillance projects such as specific survey design and delivery, sentinel veterinary practices, and developing policies and standards for animal health surveillance.

Lessons Learnt by New Zealand Veterinarians Participating in UK FMD Response

New Zealand veterinarians have been involved in the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) response to FMD since the first days of the outbreak. MAF, AgriQuality and Massey University veterinary epidemiologists have provided specialist support services to the epidemiology and disease control teams within MAFF Head Office in London.

In addition, three teams of New Zealand veterinarians drawn from MAF, AgriQuality, Massey University and private practice have undertaken Patrol Veterinarian duties in the field, in Cumbria, Northumberland, Staffordshire and Dumfries and Galloway. These are among the hardest hit areas of the UK.

This participation was to meet New Zealand obligations under the International Veterinary Reserve Agreement. If there was an outbreak in New Zealand, we could draw on up to 100 veterinarians from Australia, the UK, Ireland, Canada and the United States to assist (20 from each).

MAF is undertaking de-briefing sessions upon return to New Zealand. The objective is to capture experiences so that New Zealand's response capability can be enhanced through the real life experiences.

MAF is encouraging the veterinarians who have participated in the UK response to communicate their experiences with stakeholders here. Some are on the agenda for NZVA conference. Special sessions have been organised with Federated Farmers in the regions, and with veterinarians through the Continuing Education Foundation.

Some specific lessons learnt from participation in the UK FMD response include the importance of:

- Early detection.

- Early confirmation of infection. In this respect, diagnostic capability at the MAF National Centre for Disease Investigation is vital.

- Rapid and comprehensive movement controls to be implemented in the event of an FMD outbreak.

- National co-ordination of logistics and information management

- Effective communication directly to stakeholders, rather than allowing media to filter messages. Use of the MAF web site is very important here, and we need to get vets used to looking there for definitive information. (a suggestion has been mooted to explore the use of retired veterinarians for this purpose - there will be a meeting of retired veterinarians organised during the NZVA conference).

- Intra-governmental approaches to managing not just disease control operations but all secondary/flow-on effects. FMD would be an unprecedented shock to the national economy. MAF estimates an outbreak involving 100 farms that took three months to control would have impacts in the order of $2 billion, or 13% of agricultural GDP.

The Development of a Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand

New Zealand’s biosecurity systems are under pressure. Liberalisation in the international trading environment, the increasing number of people travelling between countries, and changing climatic conditions are all contributing factors.

The scope of biosecurity is also expanding rapidly from its traditional focus on terrestrial primary production to include human health, indigenous land, and freshwater and marine ecosystems.

The Government has agreed to fund the development of a comprehensive Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand by December 2002. The purpose of the strategy is to obtain agreement on goals, objectives and measurable targets for New Zealand’s future biosecurity programmes.

The Biosecurity Strategy will take account of Maori, environmental, primary production, public health, and trade and travel sector interests. It will apply to terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments. It will link, where appropriate, with the concurrent reviews of New Zealand’s Oceans Policy and border management systems, both of which have biosecurity components.

The Biosecurity Council is co-ordinating the strategy’s development on behalf of a group of ministers appointed by Cabinet. A strategy development team is managing the process on the Biosecurity Council’s behalf. A Strategy Advisory Group will be appointed to provide both the Biosecurity Council and the strategy development team with stakeholder perspectives.

The strategy will be developed in an open and inclusive manner. Input will be sought from a wide range of stakeholders and the general public, and participants in the process will be encouraged to focus on those biosecurity issues they believe will be important in the future.

The development process will commence with the identification of important biosecurity issues. Central government agencies, local government bodies, industry groups, Maori and other stakeholders will all be involved in this phase of the project. The issues identified will form the basis of an Issues Paper for public consultation during the period October to December 2001. A Draft Biosecurity Strategy will then be developed for a second round of public consultation during May to July 2002. Both consultation rounds will involve national workshops, hui and public meetings. A final Biosecurity Strategy will be delivered to the Cabinet for approval by 31 October 2002. The approved Biosecurity Strategy will be launched in late 2002, and implemented from 2003.

Veterinarians are encouraged to participate in this process and identify what weaknesses or problems they see with the current biosecurity arrangements or activities.

The Role of Veterinarians in Animal Welfare

The following points illustrate the important role played by veterinarians in the promotion of animal welfare in New Zealand:

- The Veterinary Council Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinarians highlights the special duty which veterinarians have towards animal welfare.

- The Animal Welfare Act 1999 requires the appointment of one veterinarian on every animal ethics committee

- The New Zealand Veterinary Association itself provides valuable input into animal welfare policy development in New Zealand. Your Association played an active role in the development of the new Animal Welfare Act 1999.

- Veterinarians serve on both the:

National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee - an independent committee to advise the Minister of Agriculture on any matter relating to the welfare of animals in New Zealand; and

National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee - an independent advisory committee to advise the Minister of Agriculture on ethical and animal welfare issues arising from research, testing and teaching using animals.

Veterinarians also lead, or play a key role, in a variety of other organisations that contribute to animal welfare, including:

The Companion Animal Council;

The Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching;

The Animals in Schools Education Trust; and

The Animal Behaviour and Welfare Consultative Committee.

The AgResearch Animal Behaviour and Welfare Research Centre

The Massey University Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre

The RNZSPCA and

The Australian College of Veterinary Scientists' Animal Welfare Chapter

Costs of HSNO Act and the ACVM (Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act for veterinarians

I appreciate some of you may still say that having two acts is unnecessarily expensive and that the costs fall unfairly on business.

I disagree. I believe the arguments have moved on considerably from where we were two or three years ago.

First, ERMA and the ACVM group have now had the opportunity to work through their processes for working together on applications that require consideration under both acts. This will ensure that assessments are not duplicated.

Second, the threshold regulations now provide for finished dose form medicines to be exempt from HSNO. You will continue to have the arrangements whereby a number of veterinary medicines are also managed as medicines under the protocol that the ACVM group has established with you.

Third, we have had the HSNO Amendment Act 2000 provide for a low cost, rapid assessment pathway for substances in the lowest of the HSNO classification categories and for similar substances. I am advised that this could apply to a number of veterinary medicines.

Finally, for those substances which do require a full assessment, I encourage you to consider the value that public participation brings to assessments. First, people do bring additional information to assessments including views on the nature of social impacts. I get letters regularly from people about hazardous substances affecting their health and affecting the environment. Second, public participation increases the trust that people have in the decisions that are reached.

I accept that there is a cost to public participation. I also think that some of that cost must fall with the supplier of these substances. This needs a balance. That is why the government is providing just over half the cost of undertaking such assessments. In my view this is a fair and reasonable balance.

I am pleased to have had this opportunity to speak to you. I wish you well for the rest of your conference.


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