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MAF Plays Keystone Cops With Biosecurity

17 February, 2004
MAF plays Keystone Cops with biosecurity

Green MP Ian Ewen-Street said today he was astounded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' process for accrediting inspections for sea containers.

Mr Ewen-Street, the Green Biosecurity spokesperson, urged MAF to immediately introduce a practical training component to its low-risk sea container Accredited Persons accreditation process, and to withdraw the online questionnaire until changes are made to make it more informative and comprehensive.

"It is farcical and an affront to New Zealand's agricultural industry," said Mr Ewen-Street. "One of the Green research staff earned accreditation by doing a theoretical test online without having to demonstrate any practical skills.

"Having sat the online test, an applicant is no more able to assess whether sea containers and their contents pose a biosecurity risk than before doing the training. Checking containers, knowing what to look for and knowing how to handle suspect items are a practical skills, which are not enhanced by the online training.

"If this wasn't such a serious issue that completely undermines our border protection, this could be dismissed as comical. One doesn't even have to be able to read to pass the training modules.

"It is absurd that someone is officially 'equipped' to check sea-containers after completing a relatively quick online course. It makes a mockery of the biosecurity process that even someone's pet cat had become an Accredited Person."

Mr Ewen-Street pointed out the glaring inadequacies of the online test:

* No requirement of the Accredited Person to report any leaves or seeds found to MAF or the site controller;

* No requirement for the use of a vacuum cleaner instead of a brush and dustpan for picking up seeds;

* Poor image quality that would leave most people unclear about what they should be looking for;

* No sound files for pests such as cane toads - instead the sound is described as a telephone 'burring' sound.

"The accreditation process must be suspended immediately until major improvements are made," he said. "I support wholeheartedly the need to inspect all sea containers arriving in New Zealand but the process must be more robust than this.

"This defective test still leaves the door wide open for nasty organisms to slip into New Zealand and the results could be devastating. MAF should leave the Keystone Cops routine for the comics and get serious about New Zealand's biosecurity," said Mr Ewen-Street.

ENDS

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