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Anderton: Biosecurity summit

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education
5 November 2008 Speech

Biosecurity summit


Good afternoon: It is a pleasure to be here, and to share some thoughts with you at the close of the 6th New Zealand Biosecurity Summit.

After twenty four years in parliament, I really thought nothing could surprise me any more.

Yet last week Don Nicholson, the President of Federated Farmers, put out a press statement headlined “good on you, Mr Anderton.”

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

Although I was delighted, Don was praising me for stating the obvious, in my eyes, that agriculture is the engine room of our economy.

Always has been, and always will be.

Maybe because I have been around a while, I remember the wide-boys in the 1980s who told us we were going to be the “Switzerland of the South”, and that agriculture was a ‘sunset industry’.

They are not looking too flash these days, those Wall Street types, are they?

Our farmers, our fishers, our horticulturalists, our foresters, have just quietly got on with the job, outperforming every other sector of the economy for 25 out of the last 27 years.

In the year to March, export earnings for agriculture and forestry grew by 7.8 percent to $23.4 billion.

I have the utmost pride in our primary industries, and enormous respect for the thousands of men and women who make them tick.

You will not find anyone more optimistic about the future of these industries than me.

Our small nation has earned, through hard graft, innovation and ingenuity, a world-wide reputation for excellence and innovation in our primary products.

Innovation and a willingness to grasp new technologies has made us so internationally competitive.

Improved management practices, breeding and genetics, have revolutionised our primary industries.

New Zealand’s future is in the production of high quality, environmentally sustainable food and primary products.

But we can never rest on our laurels.

As an agricultural based economy, exclusion of potential pests, including weeds and diseases, is critical.

We have robust measures in place to protect our biological resources, biodiversity and natural environments.

Everyday we live with exotic pests in our homes and backyards, paddocks, crops and livestock – gorse, possums, wasps.

Our waterways are equally vulnerable with undaria, didymo, styela and other exotic toxic blooms here to remind us that our rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastlines and oceans are not immune.

It’s common for some in the primary sector to think biosecurity is someone else’s problem.

We grow the product – a lamb chop, or a bottle of wine – put it on a ship and that’s it.

But we know – and they know too – that global trade is a two-way street.

And the more our economy grows, the greater the volumes crossing the border.

More trade produces higher biosecurity risks – ant pests from Pacific Islands, mosquito species and their accompanying disease vectors from Asia.

And who knows what from ballast water discharges and hull fouling – an issue discussed at the Summit yesterday.

Winning the war against exotic invaders requires a robust and internationally connected biosecurity system.

Our relative isolation brings advantages and disadvantages – but we are not self sustainable.

Collaboration with our international partners is essential.

Common sense tells us that continuing to throw money and people at the problem will not make it go away.

While our commitment to protect New Zealand’s natural advantage is absolute and will not change, we know that we have to adapt and find smarter ways of working.

We will never be totally pest free, but equally we realise that reducing risks and impacts from pests, weeds and diseases requires new biosecurity techniques and tools.

Targeted intelligence-based interventions are being developed which will bring a better understanding of ‘risk goods’and the possible impact of future events and trends.

Our biosecurity system has to be capable of operating effectively in a more sophisticated way, that facilitates trade, protects our natural environment from a greater spread of risks, and at the same time reduces supply chain timelines and compliance costs.

We also need to ensure our own biosecurity controls are evidence-based.

The science has to be sound and the decision-making best-practice.

So 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.

Over the last two days, you have considered the vital role science-based new technologies play in protecting the integrity of our biosecurity.

Murray Sherwin will wrap up the conference and touch on some of these issues in detail a little later.

Another issue we are dealing with is climate change, and science will help us deal with the biosecurity challenges climate change is already bringing.

As climate change accelerates, diseases and pests will thrive in new areas.

Different climatic conditions allow pests and diseases that couldn’t establish here previously to get a foothold.

An example in Europe is bluetongue, which was previously relegated to the Mediterranean basin.

But as more northern latitudes become warmer, the virus’ host midge might be able to propagate further north − as our colleagues in the United Kingdom have unfortunately found out.

Here in New Zealand, we too may have to deal with new pests and disease vectors that we previously never had to worry about.

Changing conditions, at home and abroad, will also force us to re-think risk profiles for some of our trading partners.

We need to be innovative in our search for new ways to keep pests and diseases out and to manage those that are here.

Science, across a wide range of disciplines, is an essential key to unlocking the solutions to these challenges, by identifying risks and the best ways to manage them, both off shore and at the border.

But we can’t tackle all our problems at once.

We have to choose our priorities.

And if we don’t have clear guidance about our priorities, then there’s a risk that research will overlap or be duplicated, or ineffective.

I have said before that existing arrangements are too ad-hoc.

The research we undertake needs to be targeted towards identifiable needs for the biosecurity system and implemented to meet those needs.

Let me briefly touch on how much more difficult our biosecurity challenge is becoming.

Because it’s only when you add up the sheer weight of increasing pressure that you see we can’t hope to do everything at once.

Indeed, if we tried to, we would take effort and resources away from the top priorities where we can make the greatest difference, and move them to less valuable purposes.

We need to be strategic because our biosecurity is under pressure from a number of different directions at once:

Pests and diseases are more common because of growing world trade and our ever-deepening integration into the global economy

Our trade partners demand − as we demand of them − biosecurity controls that are based only on evidence.

And we are under pressure at the same time from the emergence of new risks we are only beginning to contemplate.

A wide range of initiatives we are working on will provide increasing opportunities for interventions to reduce risk.

But how do we decide which threats to manage, and when, where and how to intervene?

Realistically we are not always able to predict what will prove to be a pest or disease to New Zealand.

Some organisms are not a problem in their home range, but under different circumstances have the potential to affect ecosystems and human health.

Closing the stable door before the horse has bolted is obviously the optimum approach, but predicting the future is not an exact science.

Having said that, it is this ability to predict threats which will make the most difference, both before they reach, and at, the border.

Identification is where a great deal of biosecurity work begins.

Rapid and specific identification of all organisms, no matter how small, allows us to determine the level of threat posed and is vital to protect New Zealand against an unwanted intrusion as well as to ensure we use resources wisely.

We are currently developing a framework for prioritising organisms, and will be using it to identify which pose the highest risks to New Zealand.

The framework will identify key criteria to consider when assessing the likelihood of the organism arriving in New Zealand, and to assess it for economic, environmental, human health and socio-cultural impacts.

In effect, the framework will enable MAF to make more informed decisions about where to best allocate resources across the biosecurity system, and assist decisions in reaction to new organisms or new information.

The framework will complement and support our current systems around structured risk analysis and decision making.

The current risk analysis process has been developed over many years, and continues to provide a sound basis for risk management.

This is not an ‘either – or’ approach.

We are also making good progress in a number of areas relating to minimising the harm caused by managing successful invaders, once they get a toe hold here.

Despite what you may hear, it’s not all about insecticides – we have a suite of science based techniques in the pipe line to rely on.

These include information gathering tools such as population monitoring with pheromone traps, mating disruption with pheromones, sterile male releases, with regional quarantine approaches.

We are also working on a range of biological controls with other institutions which can be applied to a number of scenarios.

Our Investigation and Diagnostic Centre is now able to provide quarantine tests for all crops which importers wish to bring into the country, on a cost recovered basis when there is no private testing provider available.

The IDC is working in partnership with a number of private providers of quarantine space such as ‘The Tree Lab’which featured in this conference, to provide the testing of plants held in private quarantine facilities.

In conclusion, we face many challenges in protecting our biosecurity.

The watch-words are vigilance, innovation and adaptation.

As goods move back and forth across the border, we must remain vigilant to safeguard New Zealand’s agriculture from unwelcome pest and disease threats.

The interconnected nature of the global food system is our strength and allows us to help feed the world, but it is also a disadvantage.

One of the agricultural sector's greatest contributions to our quality of life is the fact that products flow quickly through the supply chain – which means one of our greatest assets is also one of our greatest concerns.

The trick, of course, is striking the right balance.

By embracing new technologies – innovation and adaptation – and developing, refining and implementing new approaches to minimising biosecurity risk, our success as a nation is enhanced.

I commend you for your commitment to this task, for your work over the last two days, and for your past and on-going work to ensure our continued economic, social, environmental, and cultural development.

Thank you.


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