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O'Connor looks to overhaul Biosecurity Act, improve tracing

By Rebecca Howard

July 19 (BusinessDesk) - The government is looking to tighten control and impose harsher penalties after the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak revealed cracks in the country's stock management system.

“I’m having both the Biosecurity Act and the National Animal Identification and Tracing Act (NAIT) overhauled to ensure they meet our future needs,” Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.

“The Mycoplasma bovis outbreak is the single biggest biosecurity event New Zealand has faced and it highlighted flaws in the NAIT scheme and Biosecurity Act,” he said. "We need to learn from the bovis experience and have better pieces of legislation as a result of it," he said.

Mycoplasma bovis was first detected in New Zealand in mid-2017 and in early 2018 the government opted for phased eradication.

So far, 107,000 animals have been culled and the government has paid out $82 million in compensation. It estimates the total cost will be $886 million over 10 years and the government expects to meet around 68 percent of that total.

Eradication efforts, however, have been hampered because problems with the animal tracing system have made it more difficult to track the disease.

NAIT's biggest test has been Mycoplasma bovis and it “fell short,” O'Connor said.

Earlier this year, he announced a package of changes that Cabinet has agreed to. They are intended to improve tracing and will also drastically increase penalties by aligning them with those imposed by other legislation.

They will also specify that the Crown owns NAIT information. NAIT is run by a private company called NAIT Limited, on behalf of industry and the government. NAIT Limited is a subsidiary of OSPRI Ltd.

O'Connor said he plans to introduce an amendment bill next week to improve NAIT.

On the Biosecurity Act, O'Connor said a sustainable approach to biosecurity funding needs to be developed, including an ability to manage the "substantial and unpredictable fiscal impacts" of large biosecurity responses like Mycoplasma bovis.

The legislation is now 26 years old and “we’re operating in a different world than we were in 1993.”

O'Connor said there are growing concerns among regulators and stakeholders over what the biosecurity system should achieve, and how it should operate.

The terms of reference for the review cite unrealistic expectations that the system can eliminate risk and a belief that any incursion is a failure of the biosecurity system.

“Our trading partners have expressed concern with New Zealand’s slow response times to market access requests,” the paper noted.

Known issues in the scope of the review include changes to the primary legislation that are required to clarify or develop roles and responsibilities across the biosecurity system and changes to the primary legislation that are required to support funding for the biosecurity system as well as compliance, enforcement and incentives.

Work will progress in two stages. It will initially look at issues that affect economic outcomes with a view to public consultation being concluded by the end of this year. The review will then look at issues that impact environmental, social and cultural outcomes over a longer timeframe, with a view to public consultation in the second half of 2020.

"Dates for formal consultation on the Biosecurity Act will be announced later in the year and the public will have another opportunity to give feedback on the changes to the NAIT Act when the bill is in select committee," O'Connor said.

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