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Review finds biosecurity spotting under pressure

Review finds post-border programmes for spotting biosecurity pests and diseases are under pressure

An independent review of the state of New Zealand’s post-border biosecurity surveillance - the ability to find exotic pests and disease risks before they find us - has sounded a caution that surveillance programmes are under pressure.

“The ability of biosecurity agencies to run the best possible surveillance is incredibly important to keeping unwanted pests and diseases out of New Zealand,” said Barry O’Neil, Group Director of MAF Biosecurity. “We commissioned this review last year because, despite its importance, the role of surveillance is not well understood. This review is also one of our contributions to the development of a national Biosecurity Strategy.”

“Most of the focus in biosecurity is border related but post-border surveillance is probably the single most important function for enabling early detection. This in turn determines how realistic a chance we have of eradicating a new pest or disease.

“This review also reminds us that the high health status of New Zealand’s plants and animals is a major trade and tourism asset, and we can’t guarantee that status without credible surveillance systems. It reminds us that agricultural security is still very much a part of biosecurity”.

Review leader Dr Alan Pearson, of Prime Consulting International, describes the review as a “meaningful overview of who is doing what, where and how - informed by an assessment of more than 30 biosecurity incursions detected in New Zealand over the past 15 years.”

The review found that about two thirds of new incursions were detected quickly, while a third were well established before a response could get underway. “Given the resources and systems employed we believe that is a good result, probably world-leading. For this ratio to improve in the future however, when biosecurity demands are increasing not decreasing, is a huge challenge,” said Dr Pearson.

“In brief, this review highlights an operating and governance framework which has some difficulty maintaining the continuity and quality of surveillance programmes. Continual restructuring of departments has taken a toll in terms of disruption to operating systems, morale and institutional knowledge. Even so we are confident the current structures can be made to work, and fully functional quality systems are achievable.”

“By identifying a clear list of areas for improvement, priority actions and putting forward an economic model to show the worth of investment in surveillance, we believe this review will start to give surveillance the capital ‘S’ it deserves”, said Dr Pearson.
“We estimate that annual expenditure on detecting exotic species is in the region of $5 to $10 million - a very small amount given the values at risk,” said Dr Pearson. “More money appears to be going into detecting environmental pests than in the past, but there has been a reduction of spending in the livestock sector over the last 10 years, even though it can be argued that Government is still doing work that industry should be paying for.”

“On the upside, there is some exciting work being done in the area of enhanced detection tools and there are a relatively large number of databases and data sources which can be used in various ways to support surveillance programmes”.

Alan Pearson said the surveillance review’s sector reports are “much more than a snapshot”. They cover New Zealand’s marine environment, freshwater flora and fauna, land-based flora and fauna, exotic species of human health significance, plantation forests, plants production, farmed livestock and other domestic animals, the apiary industry and the risk of exotic environmental pests

“Each of these reports has the potential to be a benchmark to measure future progress against. Together they present a compelling picture of how pervasive biosecurity issues have become. Much like New Zealand’s coastline the so-called border for biosecurity is all around us.”

“This isn’t a static picture - already within the life of this review project, the core biosecurity agencies of MAF (as lead agency), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Fisheries and DOC have been instituting changes to the way they work together.

“This review will definitely feed into that ongoing process, and into the Biosecurity Strategy, and into the future thinking and actions of all the individuals and groups who shared their views and experience with us.”

NOTE: This Review is a final report. It is not a discussion document and public submissions are not being sought. Public consultation across the full range of biosecurity issues, including Surveillance, will take place in the early part of 2003 after a draft national Biosecurity Strategy has been issued (for information on this process see http:// http://www.biostrategy.govt.nz).

Content of the Review is available at http:// http://www.maf.govt.nz/surveillance-review

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