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Allan Barber reviews a hard-hitting Report critical of readiness for a major foot-and-mouth outbreak, made more worrying after FedFarmers concerns about PKE

Allan Barber reviews a hard-hitting Report critical of readiness for a major foot-and-mouth outbreak, made more worrying after FedFarmers concerns about PKE
The risks to New Zealand from a major bio-security outbreak are enormous.

By Allan Barber

The Auditor General’s report into the current state of readiness to cope with potential high-risk threats to our biosecurity makes sobering reading.

In the report Lyn Provost, the Auditor General, makes a number of recommendations for improvements, while complimenting MPI on recent progress.

But the overwhelming impression is one of a disaster waiting to happen.

Beneath the carefully modulated tones of her report, which follows the public service principle of expressing any criticisms quietly, there are some worrying conclusions; the most notable being that New Zealand is not prepared for an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

It is estimated that FMD would reduce GDP by $8 billion in the first year and $13 billion by the end of year two, equivalent to more than 6% of GDP.

We have always known that an outbreak of FMD would be catastrophic for our agriculturally based economy and this estimate confirms the likely extent of the catastrophe.

Yet only this morning Federated Farmers has cast serious doubts on the importing of palm kernel expeller for feeding cows; based on the findings from a visit to Malaysia last year, it appears the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has no idea which PKE factories are exporting feed to New Zealand, although some are in areas which have had outbreaks of FMD.

MPI is said to be assessing the Federated Farmers report.

The Auditor General gives credit to MPI for its response to incursions like PSA after they have arrived in the country, although I know there are kiwifruit growers who think it was all too slow. But in devoting resources to the response phase, there has been too little work on actually preparing to keep new organisms from entering the country in the first place.

Information systems, workforce planning and capability, and performance measurement are also cited as areas of weakness.

An area of potential improvement is through the Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response (GIA) which has been signed by 14 industry groups and is scheduled to come into effect in July. This will involve different agricultural sectors in partnering with the government to identify and work on specific biosecurity threats which face each sector.

However government expectations of cost-sharing through closer involvement and partnering will only be realised if individual sectors are satisfied with the allocation of resources being applied to resolving potential threats. In addition, sectors will want to ensure equitable treatment, as some threats will be sector specific, while others will be more general. Another issue is the breadth of membership of industry organisations, where not all members may agree with cost sharing proposals in the GIA.

The history of MAF and MPI over the past 15 years shows many restructures, all of them the result of government decisions designed to achieve greater efficiency at a lower cost.

Over that period since late 1997 MAF has lost Fisheries, but regained Forestry, seen its commercial operations split off into SOEs separate from policy, food safety and biosecurity; the Food Safety Authority became a standalone government department for three years before being brought back into MAF; Biosecurity has alternately been a separate division within MAF with its own distinctive brand before being reintegrated under the MPI umbrella with policy and food safety, not to mention Fisheries again, but without its separate brand.

It’s hard to see how New Zealand’s border protection and food safety agency could possibly have maintained its focus on what was really important during such frequent organisational upheavals.

So as a result we now have the Auditor General’s report which lays out a hard hitting summary of how the Ministry has taken its eye off the ball and what must now happen to bring the country’s biosecurity back to an acceptable level of readiness and capability.

For all our sakes we must hope that Wayne McNee and his team at MPI have a very clear picture of what they have to do to achieve the required performance standard.

New Zealand’s future prosperity depends on it.


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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country where he runs a boutique B&B with his wife. You can contact him by email at or read his blog here »

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We will just vaccinate like everyone else. Would stop farmers complaining about the high dollar though.

Foot and Mouth disease is a political disease.  That is - it can be farmed through, but is a political excuse for trade sanctions being imposed.  Many countries have outbreaks of F & M.  There is no reason for trade sanctions on dairy products. F & M doesn't contaminate milk.  David Carter, stated at a meeting last year that even if it was contained to one island in NZ, sanctions against NZ would be imposed.  So hence - a political disease - perhaps in more ways than one. ;-)

trust us we're from the government and we are here to help.
 What do you think of all the PKE imports CO?  At the end of the day we all end up in the same boat.
 I see lots of Sth American beef in UK supermarkets, and lets face it FM is all over Sth America with the exception of Chile.  

I'm not a fan of bought in feed Aj regardless where it comes from.  A case of when, not if, we get a real nasty brought in. - Deliberately or not.
A true tale of how easily a biosecurity breach can happen.  A dairy farming mate had a herd with salmonella.   Went to their dairy co, dairy nz and all the other 'industry' players to voice their concerns. A wall of silence met them.  No one wanted to know.  Got talking to a few other farmers and found out they too had it.To cut the story short - eventually there were so many cases that the powers that be, couldn't keep turning a blind eye and investigated it.  My mate has received a letter saying that after much investigation the common denominator of  the vast majority of the cases, but not all, was a USA mineral booster that was added to feed.
I recently saw an advert for the mineral booster with the company saying they did not believe that their mineral booster was to blame for salmonella - but they have a new recipe.  Go figure. My mate is staying well away from mineral boosters now.
Imagine if the problem was a sinister biosecurity threat. But, farmers know nothing and powers that be know everything. ;-)

I suspect the Auditor General's time would have been much better spent looking into DairyNZ's impact on N.Z. agriculture. 

Agreed. If DairyNZ existed on a voluntary contribution or performance based system they would be "gone by lunchtime". And farmers better off for their demise.

Foot and Mouth disease is also a political opportunity of choice for Ministers of Agriculture and officials within their ministry.
The cost of a Foot and Mouth disease outbreak (then overstated at $2 billion) was the justification for NAIT back when that started to gain momentum around 2003. The logic then was if we had mandatory anaimal ID then the potential cost from a Foot and Mouth outbreak would become minor.
I would like some intense scrutiny of the new $8 + $13 billion "estimated" loss to GDP from Foot and Mouth.
Who, How, Why? 

Yes and no CO. Carter was as interested in Biosecurity as I am in politics in my view. Begrudgingly, to be generous. 

I was going to say, don't worry if we have a FMD outreak here, Stephen Joyce will be standing by, ready to put a positive spin on it. Reading some of the comments here, it appears he has gotten in in advance

I have lived in a foot and mouth endemic area and watched farmers farm through foot and mouth. I have also been in the UK a couple of miles from a F&M outbreak. UK reaction was driven purely by politics-trade sanctions. Having watched farms farm through in a country where politics weren't involved, I will always be staunch in my belief that the destruction of stock in an outbreak is totally unwarranted. It is only ordered for political reasons. A western vet working in the endemic area, said he was far more concerned about going on to farms with brucellosis, than he was a farm with F&M.

A campaign to instil the fear of god in farmers re F&M has been very successful. These same fearful kiwi farmers though, have no problems feeding pke from endemic f&m countries. Go figure.

And I suppose you think an FMD outbreak would not cost us heaps and heaps and like PSA would have been, best kept out
Slackening of biosecurity is both shortsighted and stupid and of course FMD is not the only nasty that could cripple our economy.
And we could well have done without the bee varroa mite, surely

No matter how well MPI biosecurity is prepared for FMD, NZ economy can never handle a big scale FMD outbreak. Big scale means 500,000 infected cattles, 2 million cattles in controlled areas after 2 weeks, and in both islands.
But other NZ exporters might thrive because NZD/USD would drop to 0.34 overnight.

NZ can handle Foot and Mouth. What we can't handle are the incompetent and destructive political and bureaucratic responses that will follow.

Fully agree Colin. All those coffee supping, pencil pushers will be strutting around with puffed out chests making calls they have no experience in.
Being in Christchurch for the duration of all the earthquakes I have seen what happens when the bureaucrats and Pollies are out of their depth. 

The depth politicians and bureaucrats can handle has been decreasing for decades.
Now they are even struggling in the learners pool, and only keeping their heads above water with bouyancy provided by massive perception management.

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Days to the General Election: 35
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.