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Cullen Address to National Beekeepers’ Association

Michael Cullen Address to National Beekeepers’ Association National Conference 2004 Napier War Memorial Conference Centre


As you begin your national conference for 2004 there are some important challenges facing the beekeeping industry.

The obvious one is the ongoing response to the discovery of the varroa mite in the North Island. This has forced some hard choices both on the industry and on the government.

I am sure you are very familiar with the pros and cons of a containment strategy on the one hand and an eradication strategy on the other. It is not an easy choice to make.

Nor is it an easy task to find solutions which meet the needs and priorities of the large number of stakeholders who, for better or worse, need to be included in the decision making process. As you will be aware, the Varroa Planning Group has representatives from the arable, pastoral, horticultural and beekeeping industries, along with local government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. All of these parties need to be at the table, and their interests balanced.

At the end of the day, considering the likelihood of success, the risk of failure and the costs involved, the government decided that containment was the better option.

Now, of course, we have the question of how to put together a strategy to prevent the varroa mite from spreading to the South Island.

The Varroa Planning Group has proposed a strategy that involves measures to prevent the spread of the mite across Cook Strait, and measures to ensure its early detection should it succeed. There are strongly divergent opinions, however, and it has proved necessary for my colleague Jim Sutton to set up a Board of Inquiry to investigate the matter and make recommendations. This is perhaps not ideal, but we need a fair and transparent process for setting a way forward.

We need to be well equipped in the battle against the varroa mite, and I am happy to inform you that the National Beekeepers Association’s application to the Government's Sustainable Farming Fund has been approved. This means that work will go ahead on four components of work: organic methods of control, ensuring current methods of control are continued, scoping potential methods of biocontrol, and some work on a breeding programme for varroa resistant bees.

The challenge of the varroa mite exemplifies the difficulty of designing an effective biosecurity strategy for New Zealand. Even if we could afford to seal off the country, we would not want to do so because that would impose intolerable restrictions of the free movement of people and goods that is essential to our trading economy. We can easily jeopardise an industry like tourism by opting to increase the actual and perceived barriers at our border. So from the very start, there are difficult trade-offs to be made.

Bio-security is also a very costly commodity, and one in which the return on investment is never easy to quantify. The focus of attention is always the occasional failures of the system (the threats that elude the net), rather than the successes, which are taken for granted and forgotten.

Having said that, our judgement when we came into office in 1999 was that New Zealand was under-investing in bio-security.

In this year’s budget, baseline funding increased from $154 million to almost $165 million. This represents a 7.4 per cent increase over the 2003 financial year and a 57.5 per cent increase since the Labour-led government took office in 1999. In all, Budget 2004 allocates $46.5 million in new funding over four years to strengthen New Zealand's defences against exotic weeds, pests, and diseases.

The successive funding increases have allowed us to ensure 100 per cent screening of air passengers and crew, and to tackle the screening of sea containers, which has been an area of particular vulnerability. All this has been done while still enabling trade and tourism to flow at ever-increasing rates.

Our focus now is on implementing the Biosecurity Strategy, which has been drawn up after three years of public consultation and involvement. This year’s additional $46.5 million budget allocation includes a number of elements of that Strategy:

$19.5 million over four years to improve marine biosecurity;

Another $1 million a year to the Protect New Zealand programme, which encourages New Zealanders to help keep the biosecurity system vigilant;

Another $7.8 million over four years for monitoring to ensure decisions on border management remain consistent and cost effective;

$404,000 this financial year and $405,000 in out years to fund a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank; and

$400,000 to ensure conservation biosecurity is maintained.

The Strategy is an important step towards a biosecurity system that is second to none. That is entirely appropriate as an objective, since we are an island nation, heavily reliant upon primary production for our livelihood.

Ultimately, however, biosecurity is not something that governments do by themselves. We all need to be vigilant, and all of our land-based industries – this one included – need to engage with the issues and help weigh up the costs and the options.

We cannot make the world a simpler or a less risky place to do business. What I believe the primary industries in New Zealand have proved again and again is their capacity to adapt to changed circumstances and to find opportunities when others only see threats. I trust that that will be the spirit that will guide your thinking and planning over the course of this conference.

Thank you.

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