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Biosecurity Awareness An Ongoing Need

The public awareness campaign about the risks of foot and mouth disease is winding up, but the risk of that or many other pests and diseases wreaking havoc in New Zealand is still with us, Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton says.

Mr Sutton told a meeting in Wellington that the foot and mouth public awareness campaign - funded out of the $4.6 million extra allocated to biosecurity in March - had been useful in capturing people's attention in the wake of the outbreak in Britain.

"Anecdotal evidence indicates that people are much more aware of the risks of that disease now."

However, he said the risks of foot and mouth disease should not blind people to the risks that other diseases and pests posed to New Zealand.

"For example, there are several species of fruit fly, Pierce's disease for grapes and the glassy winged sharpshooter insect which transmits that disease, plum pox disease in summerfruit, citrus canker disease for citrus fruit, asian gypsy moth, and pitch pine canker which could affect our horticulture and forestry industries.

"There are newcastle disease and avian influenza which affect birds, equine influenza and equine infectious anaemia which affect horses, as well as nasties such as anthrax and rabies.

"To that, we can add the "hitchhiker" species - snakes, red fire ants, scorpions, and mosquitos."

Mr Sutton said there was an ongoing biosecurity awareness campaign, funded out of MAF's baselines, which was boosted to $2.79 million a year in last year's Budget.

"Biosecurity is an important issue and it's one all New Zealanders need to take seriously."

The $4.6 million extra allocated to biosecurity meant that soft-tissue x-ray machines, used to detect organic material, have been installed at all international airports, including the military airports. New Zealand is thought to be the only country in the world to screen and x-ray 100 per cent of mail, passengers, and their baggage.

Mr Sutton said that surveillance was vital because a huge amount of high-risk material was being brought into the country. Seizures of undeclared goods at Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington international airports were up 25 per cent in April and 28 per cent in May, compared to the same months last year, according to MAF Quarantine Service figures. Passenger number increases were 2 per cent and 7 per cent greater in April and May respectively.

The number of seizures per 1000 passengers increased by 21%, from 28.0 in April-May 2000 to 33.8 in April-May 2001.

Mr Sutton said at least 40 per cent of the people carrying undeclared risk material are New Zealanders.

"This isn't just a problem of uninformd foreigners. It's our own people not taking the dangers seriously."

MAF figures show that last year, about 51 million mail items came into New Zealand, and numbers are roughly the same this year. Last year, about 4.5 million of those 51million items were parcels and all were x-rayed.

Based on last year's experience, MAF estimates about 88,000 parcels will be opened this year and about 40 per cent of those will have risk items in them.

Mr Sutton said New Zealanders needed to think about their actions.

"We are a small island nation. That's protected us from a lot of bad things. But now with the advent of international air travel and global trade, we have to be more careful.

"Foot and mouth disease is endemic in many countries around the world, not just Britain. But just about every country in the world has some pest or disease we don't want here. If you are bringing back anything, for goodness sake - declare it.

" We have a lot to protect in New Zealand. We have biosecurity controls for a reason. But it's not just a Government responsibility - we all have to work together. We all have a role to play."


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