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Jim Sutton Speech to Federated Farmers

Jim Sutton Speech: Federated Farmers meat and fibre annual meeting, Wellington

Chairman Murray Taggart, Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.

There is a very important process going on in New Zealand at the moment, one that is going to have significant ramifications for your sector and other parts of the primary production industry.

This process is the formation of New Zealand's first biosecurity strategy.

The Biosecurity Strategy is an extremely significant development in New Zealand. All too often, governments lack planning and instead resort to series of ad hoc measures that may or may not be the right way to go in the long-term. Biosecurity is too important for New Zealand to be treated in that way.

Almost 150 submissions were made on the draft strategy document, published in December. Those submissions are being worked on now, and I hope to have the final strategy document out in June.

The threat to New Zealand posed by new pests and diseases grows, in proportion to traveler numbers and freight volume, compounded by the increased speed of travel and exacerbated by climate change.

Our response has been a process of continual improvement in biosecurity.

A key part of that continual improvement is getting across the message that biosecurity is not something just Government officials or politicians do. It's something all New Zealanders are responsible for and should be involved in. That's not just in making sure risk materials aren't brought into the country, but also in working together to do whatever necessary to eradicate pests and diseases if they do make it here.

The effectiveness of our biosecurity measures affects all New Zealanders.

It has been estimated that a foot and mouth disease outbreak in New Zealand would cut our gross domestic product by eight per cent? something that everyone would notice. Therefore, we all need to work together ? to ensure that border controls are not breached, that biosecurity programmes work effectively, and that these activities are scrutinised.

Currently, our biosecurity measures are under the microscope again as we have had a flurry of incursions by moths, ants, and mosquitos during the past month.

All of these incursions are serious. Particularly worrying is the latest incursion, that of an Asian Gypsy Moth in Hamilton. I can assure you that Agriculture and Forestry Ministry officials are doing everything possible to eradicate that moth, and I will be doing everything necessary to ensure they have the resources to do so.

What do these latest incursions tell us about our biosecurity system?

Firstly, it indicates there are still areas for improvement. That's not a surprise.

We have already identified sea containers as a significant risk area. A $1 million research study into sea freight risks has recently been completed and its report published, along with a discussion document proposing options for tighter controls. This work will be folded into the Biosecurity Strategy project.

This work is important. There will be a rational and considered response from Government to it coming not too far down the track.

I can give you a personal commitment that the Government is not complacent in this area, and that we intend to have tightened up biosecurity measures for sea containers by the end of this year.

With the combination of all my portfolios ? biosecurity, agriculture, rural affairs, forestry, and trade ? I realize clearly how important it is for the primary production sector not to be constantly battling new pests and diseases.

Our response, one of continuous improvement, must continue relentlessly.

The Labour-Alliance Government, and now the Labour-Progressive Government, is more committed to biosecurity than any previous Government. According to the Auditor-General in a recent report on biosecurity, the Government is spending an extra $50 million a year on biosecurity baseline funding.

When foot and mouth disease was raging through Britain, we spent significant amounts of money to install soft-tissue x-ray machines at all international airports and to provide extra detector dog teams. That lifted screening of air crew and passengers from about 80 per cent to 100 per cent. In addition, all mail is screened.

We are still the only country in the world to do that.

There is still a need to address sea container biosecurity. There is no room for complacency. We are working to fix it. But I ask you to accept that there is no silver bullet solution for this. Throwing ever-increasing amounts of money at the problem cannot make our border impervious. Searching every container ? even if it were logistically possible, which it is not ? would not make it so. Who could guarantee to find every insect, every spore, every seed? Or round it up again if it flew out when the door was opened? We need a smarter approach, which is why we are investing so much time and talent into thinking about it and encouraging others to help us.

In the meantime, we are responding energetically to tackle the latest finds. Asian Gypsy Moth is a very serious incursion indeed - this is a very serious pest with the potential to cause incredible damage throughout the country.

It is some consolation that we appear to have found it early, but it is a clear sign that we need to be constantly vigilant and to maintain our surveillance programmes.

Again, it is a timely reminder that responsibility for biosecurity rests not just with Government or MAF officials, but with all citizens. We all need to watch out for unusual-looking or new diseases, insects or animals, and then report them to MAF for following up.

Biosecurity isn't an area where you can put a few measures in place and leave them there rigidly. We're dealing with living things, and these things are dynamic, they change. We have to make sure that our systems keep pace with those changes. It's a constant evolution.

Of course, it's not the only area affected by change. Everything is ? what is it they say? The only constant these days is change.

Industry sectors in primary production are also undergoing significant change at the moment.

We're still in the shake-down period of the new dairy industry structure, and meat and wool industries are also in transition.

The Wool Board Restructuring Bill has had its first reading, and submissions have been called for by the primary production select committee. That is expected to report back by June 16.

Later this year, Meat NZ and SheepCo will hold a referendum of sheep and beef farmers to obtain a mandate for ongoing funding of a package of industry-good activities, and to form a single organisation for both meat and wool levies.

The Labour party's policy on producer board reforms has always been that it must be supported by the majority of industry players; it must be fair to minority interests; and it must be in the national interest.

As Associate Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor told the Meat NZ AGM in Dunedin last month, the Government has not yet received a formal proposal for this restructuring, which proposes forming a joint body between Meat NZ and SheepCo to fund meat and wool industry good activities. It is essential when we do receive a proposal that it has the overwhelming support of beef and sheep farmers. Indications from the dairy industry process should warn us that endorsement through the Commodities Levies Act even for industry good funding is not necessarily easy.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for farmers to participate in this process. This is the future of your industry.

Funding for biosecurity and in particular TB control, market access advocacy, and ongoing research and development are vital industry investments. You must achieve a positive outcome from this process.

Ladies and Gentlemen: primary producers have shown New Zealand the way in the past.

When farmer supports were removed and the economy deregulated in the mid-1980s, the agricultural sector responded well. Products and markets were diversified, and productivity increased. In fact, productivity increased by almost 4 per cent a year from the mid-1980s while productivity in the general economy during the same time only increased by little over 1 per cent.

The Government is working to ensure market access for your products. As you well know, agricultural products face the highest barriers in the international marketplace. We are working with other nations through the World Trade Organisation's Doha Development Round to lower those barriers. Studies show that in the last round, the gains in market access meant that every sheep, beef, and dairy farmer earned on average $11,500 extra each year since 2000.

I see no reason why your sector should not continue to do well. You have excellent, high quality products. The Government, in partnership with you, is working to ensure your international markets are maintained and increased. While it may take some time, I am confident that the Doha Development Round will lead to gains for you which are as significant as those in the Uruguay round.

Thank you.

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