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Strength to care about science

4 March 2008

Strength to care about science

Evidence-based science is crucial both for efficient trade and maintaining our first-world living standards, Biosecurity Minister Jim Anderton said today.

Jim Anderton told the gathering at the launch of the University of Auckland's post-graduate biosecurity programme that biosecurity issues were especially important to us in New Zealand, because so much of our economy depends on the success of our primary production sectors.

"We are more dependent on primary industry than any developed country - by far. Two thirds of the cost of every iPod we import is paid for by exports of our primary products. We depend on our primary products, and our primary products depend on our biosecurity."

Jim Anderton said our primary sector would be even more valuable if it didn't face massive trade barriers.

One estimate showed the average horticultural exporter faced direct barriers worth around $26,000 a year to the bottom line, he said, and one of the most insidious forms of protection we encounter is the presence of biosecurity barriers where they cannot be scientifically justified.

"We have seen an example close to home, in the pseudo-science that has been used to keep our apples out of Australia. We are taking Australia to the World Trade Organisation over its unfounded claims of concerns about fire blight in New Zealand apples."

Jim Anderton said it was important that, when we respond to those cynical trade barriers, our own hands are clean.

"We need to ensure our own biosecurity controls are evidence-based. The science has to be sound and the decision-making best-practice.

"Science is crucial to the integrity of our biosecurity - and also to our efforts to ensure biosecurity in other countries doesn't jeopardise trading opportunities for New Zealand. Science is crucial to our need to be innovative in keeping pests and diseases out of New Zealand. Science and research across disciplines can help us better identify risks and the best ways to manage them.

"The work done by scientists with an interest in biosecurity contributes materially to the standard of living of all New Zealanders. So I hope to see biosecurity science become a career choice that excites and attracts some of our best and brightest."

Jim Anderton said the Auckland University course would provide advanced training for graduates and biosecurity practitioners.

"Graduates will be better equipped to understand biosecurity threats and to help to protect New Zealand from them."

He said the Government, through MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, was getting behind this course. It has provided some of the funding for a lectureship in biosecurity at the University of Auckland for the next five years.

Jim Anderton said that as Progressive Party leader, he was disappointed that the tertiary education system in New Zealand still forced students, such as those who would be taking this new biosecurity course, into debt for taking the course.

"We need their expertise and their contribution - we should be encouraging the study of biosecurity science, not penalising it," he said.

ENDS

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