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Biosecurity Memorandum Of Understanding Signed

A new Memorandum of Understanding signed by the chief executives of the four central government departments with responsibility for biosecurity was a positive sign of the commitment to a whole-of-Government approach for this vital area, Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said he congratulated the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Health, and the Department of Conservation on the approach they were taking.

"Managing biosecurity successfully is a clear priority to protect New Zealand from the pests, weeds, diseases and harmful organisms known to put economic growth, valued biological diversity and human health at risk."

Mr Sutton said the MOU was to ensure that effective biosecurity measures were maintained, to fully utilise the expertise within each department, and to continue to build the positive relationship between them to promote and produce optimal results for biosecurity in New Zealand.

The first MOU was signed in July last year and had been considerably expanded before the new MOU was signed this month, he said.

"This ability to reach clear agreements maximising inter-agency cooperation and collaboration is a significant improvement on the less formal situation that existed before.

"The benefits of working closely together include the ability to share common information and where possible costs, as well as presenting a unified approach to compliance and enforcement of biosecurity legislation. The benefits also extend to building more opportunities for staff training and joint research programmes.

"The operational agreements between MAF and the three other departments help to formalise and strengthen the processes for developing policy, robust import health standards, risk analyses and standards for associated border controls and containment. They also clarify surveillance and response responsibilities."

Background information:

The latest biosecurity Memorandum Of Understanding signed on 12 March 2002 covers those aspects of central government's biosecurity programme where more than one biosecurity department is affected and where there is clear mutual interest.

The MOU reflects the current operational framework and may undergo further changes after current reviews of surveillance and of departmental responsibilities for responding to diseases in the marine environment are completed. The independent development of a Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand, due for completion in December this year and funded by the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, may also impact on the relationships between agencies.

To achieve the Government's biosecurity objectives, biosecurity programmes implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Health and Department of Conservation operate in concert with the policies and statements laid down by the Biosecurity Council. The Council's membership includes representatives from regional councils, the primary production industry and environmental organisations as well as the Environmental Risk Management Authority and the ministries of Environment, Maori Development and Research, Science and Technology.

MAF administers the Biosecurity Act 1993 and has the largest biosecurity capability of the four departments. The Ministry of Fisheries is the lead agency responsible for marine biosecurity, the Ministry of Health is responsible for providing advice on all matters relating to human health and the Department of Conservation provides advice on risks to indigenous flora and fauna.

Under the current operational framework MAF provides advice to the Minister of Biosecurity in relation to the Minister's powers and duties under the Biosecurity Act for land-based and freshwater environments. MAF's Biosecurity Authority has a central role in coordination of the programme, including the activities of the Biosecurity Council secretariat, and has oversight of up to 20 separate international agreements, conventions and guidelines.

Responses to Pests and Diseases

The term "incursion" is used wherever an organism not previously known to be established in New Zealand is detected, and the responsibility for "incursion responses" is further clarified in the MOU. In almost all cases MAF has the lead responsibility for these responses with some variations, for example:

· Ministry of Fisheries

The Ministry of Fisheries leads incursion responses to exotic pests in the marine environment. Border protection in the marine environment has been focused on two main risk pathways - ballast water and hull fouling. MAF and the Ministry of Fisheries already have a separate MOU for ballast water inspection services at the border. MAF will also support the Ministry of Fisheries in research to assess biosecurity risk to the marine environment associated with organisms passing through the border via passenger traffic, mail or imported goods. The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy has provided additional funding for marine biosecurity through to 2005.

· Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health has responsibility for leading the initial incursion response for exotic mosquitoes of public health significance (as well as responses to 'infectious diseases' and 'communicable diseases' subject to control under the Health Act 1956). MAF has a responsibility to advise the relevant public health service of any suspected exotic mosquito species - including identification awaiting expert confirmation - within one hour of such interception or identification. Any sample or specimen of a suspected exotic mosquito is forwarded to the Ministry of Health's National Mosquito Response Service.

· Department of Conservation (DoC)

DoC will support lead departments in the course of any initial incursion response in relation to an organism of conservation significance and will provide support and assistance to MAF for other high priority/ national responses where it has relevant expertise and resources, including field staff. While MAF will lead initial incursion responses the lead department for ongoing responses to pests and diseases in the terrestrial (land-based) and freshwater environments will be determined on a case-by-case basis and by written agreement between MAF and DoC as advised to the Minister for Biosecurity.

DoC is funded for specific pest and disease responses such as freshwater fish (Koi carp and Gambisia) in the South Island. It is also funded to undertake Crown exacerbator pest and weed control under regional councils' regional pest management strategies.

DoC also undertakes limited surveillance for pests of forest ecosystems. Surveillance of indigenous forest sites consists of surveying pre-selected campsiteswhich experience high tourist traffic. Surveillance of plantation forests consists of a combination of annual aerial and ground surveys.

Areas not covered by the current MOU

Please note the current MOU does not cover interactions beyond the level of determination of responsibility for leading incursion responses so it does not cover the development of pest management strategies and other matters relating to endemic pest management.

It does not replace but is aligned with the existing MOU between MAF, DoC and the New Zealand Customs Service on the Organised Illegal Trade in Wildlife.

Useful links for further information

- A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding and its component operational agreements can be found at www.maf.govt.nz/biocouncil which is the Biosecurity Council's website

- Details about the development of a Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand can be found at www.biosecurity.govt.nz

- Details about the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy are located at www.doc.govt.nz/Conservation/The-New-Zealand-Biodiversity-Strategy/

- The goal of the Protect New Zealand campaign is to raise awareness of biosecurity. Its website address is www.protectnz.org.nz_

Office of Hon Jim Sutton

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