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Contaminated seed spill:Lack of specialist biosecurity staff

6 September 2013

Contaminated seed spill highlights lack of specialist biosecurity staff

The Public Service Association says a large spillage of contaminated grass seed in Canterbury is unlikely to have happened if there were enough specialist biosecurity inspectors to monitor high-risk quarantine operations.

About 30 kilograms of imported fescue seed contaminated with the quarantine black grass seed spilled along State Highway 77 between Ashburton and Methven.

The contaminated fescue seed had been sent to a quarantine facility in Methven to have the black grass seed cleaned. When that was unsuccessful the seed importer, PGG Wrightson then picked it up and transported it in insecure containers on the back of a vehicle.

The PSA says there are no longer any specialist biosecurity inspectors left in the South Island to monitor and oversee this type of quarantine operation.

"The merger of MAF into the Ministry for Primary Industries and on-going restructuring at MPI has led to a huge loss of specialist expertise and institutional knowledge," says PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff.

"Earlier in 2013 there were three specialist biosecurity inspectors in the South Island who had the necessary experience and knowledge to monitor and manage such situations and who would have been able to manage the risk. However two left following recent restructuring and the other has been moved into a different role."

"Although MPI has been recruiting more inspectors, relentless restructuring over the past two years has resulted in the loss of expertise. The biosecurity inspector role has been disestablished and quarantine inspectors are now carrying out this role. Quarantine inspectors are more generalist which means a lot of the specialist work in managing biosecurity risks just does not have the same focus or support."

"Canterbury used to be a region with a lot of specialist seed and grain quarantine regulation management but it’s been diminished and New Zealand doesn’t have the level of expertise or overview that we should. As the most important seed multiplication area in the country, improvements must be made,” he says.

Farmers say the seed spillage is the equivalent of foot and mouth disease in the cropping industry and will now involve an expensive and long-term clean-up programme involving chemical and physical controls to ensure black grass does not establish.

Richard Wagstaff says "MPI needs to look at areas where specialist knowledge is needed to manage biosecurity risk and build up the support and capacity around that if we are to prevent more costly mistakes which undermine our biosecurity defences.”


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