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Hon Jim Anderton - OIE meeting, Queenstown

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

Progressive Leader

27 November 2007

OIE meeting, Queenstown

Delegates, distinguished guests, it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to this conference.

Can I particularly acknowledge OIE director general Dr Bernard Vallat.

And I welcome too our visiting delegations from overseas.

This conference is in a very beautiful and unique town - we New Zealanders feel very proud of Queenstown.

I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy the many attractions on offer around Queenstown and to see some of New Zealand while you are here.

If you have the opportunity to look around New Zealand you will see the the scale of our primary sector.

More than any other developed country in the world, we are dependent on our agricultural and fisheries products.

It’s always been that way, since first Maori settlers arrived in New Zealand perhaps as little as a thousand years ago.

They found a land of unrivalled uniqueness, where flora had evolved over eternity entirely undisturbed by mammals.

Ever since the first Europeans arrived and began to settle in New Zealand - less than two hundred years ago - we have been dependent on the produce from our farms for our livelihoods.

We opened those farms when the industrial age created demand for meat in European cities and when industrial technology made it possible for us to ship frozen products around the world.
And today in the knowledge age, we are continuing to carve out our living from the farms because we are embracing knowledge in our primary production.

I am fond of pointing out that a product like a lamb chop might not look very high-tech. But there is as much science and research in a chilled lamb chop arriving in a foreign restaurant as there is in a cellphone. Our science extends to studies of animals and varieties, feeds, climate, transport options and much more.

Let me give you one example - earlier this year I was privileged to open another international conference in New Zealand. This one was held to discuss pastoral endophytes. I hope scientists here will be understanding when I tell you that, before I received an invitation to the conference, I had never heard of an endophyte. I learned they occur in grasses, and that they can be good and bad. They can increase yields for farmers, but they can also have effects on animal health (as many of you here will know). And as I read about them, I discovered that a scientific breakthrough has been made in the last couple of years. A discovery was made here on our farms and in our laboratories of a way to separate the ‘good’ endophytes from the undesirable ones - producing higher yields without the health side-effects for the animals. Working with other scientists in the field overseas, the technology was commercialised. And now farmers are increasing yields - and a whole new primary sector business stream is opening up in marketing special grass seeds.

When we see a bale of wool or a carcass of lamb, we don’t always see the breakthrough which animal and pastoral science has brought to the product in order to market it competitively.

For New Zealand, though, these issues are crucial. Two thirds of our export earnings come from agriculture and fisheries. We are dependent on these sectors. We don’t make too many cars in New Zealand. We are dependent on imported oil. And like other developed countries we expect to participate in the best the world has to offer. We can only do so if we are capable of selling our agricultural production to the world and at a good price.

I hope that you will see from this the value that we place on science based international standards to effectively manage biosecurity risk in the way that interferes least with trade.

And therefore you will understand the crucial importance to New Zealand of the OIE’s work.

We joined the OIE in 1925, when the organisation was just a year old.

Our decision to be part of this organisation then reflected that agriculture was crucially important to us back then as well and our recognition that our interests are linked to the success of the OIE.

With the establishment of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement in 1995, this organisation’s role was formalised in setting international standards for trade in animals and animal products.

And New Zealand is a proud participant. We stand shoulder to shoulder with other trading nations in our commitment to OIE objectives of transparency, scientific information, international solidarity, sanitary safety, the promotion of veterinary services, food safety and animal welfare.

Like some other countries represented here, we are a small nation. What we learn as a small nation is that we can never prevail by force - whether economic, or otherwise. We will always lose in a test of muscle. But we also know that there is (at least in the long-run!) something stronger - it is reason and logic. So we are strongly supportive of international institutions and fora where nations can come together and swap ideas, share information and conclude agreements to manage trade and relations.

In these fora, the basis for decisions should always be facts, logic, reason and ethical integrity.

I started out by talking about how young New Zealand is as a country. We have perhaps the most recently settled country in the world. And because it evolved for so many millenia free from human interference, we evolved uncountable varieties of unique species. From our iconic kiwi birds, to forest dwelling insects, to varieties of snails and flowers on our tussock-covered mountains. This is a habitat for incredibly unique species.

We have a responsibility to protect this environment. But we are an open country, open to the world and wanting to integrate with the world economy. We have to manage the risk that our fragile native species will be exposed to pests and diseases to which they have never evolved defences.

Our way of managing those twin, vital interests is to maintain a strict biosecurity focus - and at the same time ensure that the gate swings open or shut strictly on the basis of science.

This is a matter of much more than protecting our physical environment, though that would be reason enough in itself. But our very livelihoods depend on it. In 2005, a hoaxer caused a foot and mouth scare on Waiheke Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, right next to our largest city, Auckland.

I’m pleased to say that we were able to immediately mount a very large scale biosecurity response - and to confirm the incident was a hoax.

But it also underlined the seriousness of biosecurity to New Zealand’s way of life.

Over the next five years, the government of New Zealand will spend $840 million on biosecurity - that is, on keeping our habitat free from exotic pests and diseases.
I want to emphasise the strong and positive role this organisation plays in making it possible for us to continue to thrive as a modern, globally-connected trading economy and also protect our biosecurity.

It’s vital that as nations we continue to work together on these issues.
Of all the OIE Regional Commissions, the Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania contains by far the greatest animal and human populations.

There are vast animal health challenges.

We have to co-operate in a strong working partnership if we’re going to be effective in controlling and eradicating animal diseases.

Humans, not animals, drew national boundaries.

We drew those boundaries on maps, not on the ground. So animals, diseases and pests have no respect for national boundaries. The nature of the issue requires us to collaborate.

We’ve seen a global example in the threat posed by H5N1 avian influenza, or ‘bird flu’.

I would like to commend the OIE, along with the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation for working together to manage bird flu.

I specifically would like to acknowledge the OIE’s sponsorship of the regional workshop yesterday.

These issues demonstrate how much we have to gain from working together. By making decisions on the basis of science, we can continue to enjoy the fruits of increasing global connectivity. And we can benefit all of humankind by doing so.

So I have much pleasure in declaring this conference open. I wish you all a productive conference, and an enjoyable experience in the unique Queenstown environment.


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