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New funding will enhance capabilities of MAF

24 May 2002 - For Immediate Release

New funding will enhance capabilities of MAF laboratories

Laboratory services provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) through Vote Biosecurity will be improved after receiving extra funding of $6 million over the next four years in Budget 2002.

The funding will add new resources to this key element of New Zealand's biosecurity programme, MAF Director-General Murray Sherwin said today.

"MAF's ability to deal with our large workload of biosecurity responses is underpinned by the important work carried out at our laboratories, which have been under considerable pressure in recent times," he said.

"It is an endorsement of the importance of this role that we will now be able to upgrade facilities and put in place other measures to increase New Zealand's capability to respond to biosecurity incursions.

Mr Sherwin said the funding for development of a central database of information for responding to incursions of unwanted pests and diseases is particularly significant.

Dr Hugh Davies, Director of MAF Laboratories, said the funding will contribute to a higher level of preparedness for biosecurity emergencies.

The laboratories, which constitute New Zealand's leading group of scientists and technicians specialising in the early detection of pests and diseases, provide diagnostic services as well as continuous support for several core biosecurity programmes. The laboratories also perform a central role as a clearinghouse for calls to the national exotic pest and disease 0800 hotline service and the separate set of demands that creates.

"Development of a computer database for holding all information relevant to the logistics of dealing with new pests and responding to outbreaks of animal or plant disease is a major new initiative and an extremely necessary one," said Dr Davies.

"A central database specifically designed for collecting information on incursion responses will enhance the flow of data between the field and response headquarters, and amongst all of the people involved in keeping pests and diseases out of New Zealand.

"The information needed during an eradication programme is frequently complex and can be difficult to collate. The kinds of information involved include mapping geographic locations where a pest or disease is found and locations where it might spread, as well as tracking the progress of monitoring and surveillance activities.

"A lack of accessible current and historical information places a limit on the potential for identification of pathways through which a pest or disease may have entered New Zealand, be that through an illegal import or a pest hitchhiking on a sea container.

"On the other hand improved data processing will give us a new standard of statistical and geo-spatial analysis and reporting, which will better inform both our policy making and our decision making.

New funding has also been allocated to construction work at the National Centre for Disease Investigation (NCDI) in Upper Hutt for expansion of the space available for dealing with an exotic disease response such as foot and mouth. And in Auckland funding will allow relocation of the National Plant Pest Reference Laboratory (NPPRL) from Lynfield to new, purpose-built premises in Tamaki.

"Of equal importance is the opportunity to add to our base of specialist staff by building a three person team of incursion investigators at the NPPRL, as well as adding a bacteriologist to the NCDI team," said Dr Davies.

"Having a dedicated incursion team gives us a better capacity to manage the rise in biosecurity-related activity, and to ensure we are as timely and effective in our responses as we can possibly be.

ENDS

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