New Zealand Drafts Biosecurity Plan Against Pests

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - New Zealandís largest national conservation organization is welcoming the release of the draft Biosecurity Strategy as a critical step towards the protection of New Zealand's environment from pests and diseases. But isolated New Zealand's biosecurity systems are under pressure from increasing travel and trade, and critics say the new plan does not go far enough in protecting the country from invasive plants and animals.

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Argentine ants like this one have invaded New Zealand in large numbers. (Photo courtesy MAF)
The government's multi-agency Biosecurity Council released a draft Biosecurity Strategy today after two years of consultation and study. Public comments are welcome, and the final round of consultation will close on February 28, 2003.

The Biosecurity Council has an independent chair, and includes chief executives of the Department of Conservation, and the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry, Health, Fisheries, Environment, Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri), Research, Science and Technology; the Environmental Risk Management Authority, representatives of regional councils, primary production industry, environmental organizations, and the group director of Ministry Agriculture and Forestry's (MAF) Biosecurity Authority.

Asian gypsy moths, Argentine ants, red fire ants, Chinese mitten crabs, European shore (green) crabs, Mediterranean fan worms, exotic mosquitoes - they are all invading the isolated ecosystems of New Zealand. Separation from its nearest neighbor, Australia, by 2,000 kilometers of ocean is less protection today than it has been in the past.

The government intends to finalize the Biosecurity Strategy before June 2003, after analyzing submissions and assessing strategic and operational policy options.

Forest and Bird's Biosecurity Awareness Officer, Geoff Keey, said, "New Zealand's natural environment is being attacked by a deluge of pests. Some like rats, stoats and ferrets came a long time ago. Others like painted apple moth are new arrivals."

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Female painted apple moth with her eggs (Photo courtesy MAF)
The painted apple moth (Teia anartoides), a native of Australia, was first found in the west Auckland suburb of Glendene in May 1999. There is an ongoing program to eradicate it with aerial spray of insecticide that is fiercely protested by community groups.

"The controversy around painted apple moth and the recent discovery that red backed spiders had sneaked past the border shows how important it is to do border inspections properly the first time. Aucklanders won't want to be sprayed from a DC3 every couple of years because yet another pest sneaked past the border," Keey said.

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Director of the MAF Biosecurity Authority Barry O'Neill (Photo courtesy MAF)
Barry O'Neill, director of the MAF Biosecurity Authority said, "The serious animal diseases that have swept through other countries have so far been kept out of New Zealand. This is largely due to our geographical isolation and our well developed biosecurity systems for helping to ensure people and freight entering our country are not carrying exotic pests or diseases."

"The Biosecurity Strategy must ensure that no more pests become established," Keey said.

"Nature is paying a heavy price for this pest invasion: whio (blue duck) and mohua (yellowhead) and kiwi are declining and will go extinct unless we protect them from predators," he said.

Forest and Bird is seeking the adoption of a precautionary approach - if in doubt keep it out - and the polluter pays principle.

The draft strategy acknowledges the need to take precautions. "New Zealand takes a precautionary approach in developing its risk analyses," the strategy states. "Wherever there is uncertainty, with a risk of damaging impacts, conservative decisions based on mainstream scientific views should be made. A precautionary approach also needs to recognize most negative decisions also carry risks and consequences."

But there is still the controversial issue of whose authority prevails over biosecurity decisions to be settled.

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Citrus canker is a new threat to New Zealand citrus trees. (Photo courtesy Florida Department of Agriculture)
Forest and Bird is urging the creation of a single, standalone agency for biosecurity with a transfer of Ministry of Fisheries' (MFISH) biosecurity role to MAF Biosecurity "so everyone knows where the buck stops," the group said today.

But the draft strategy recommends designating MAF and MFISH as lead agencies for terrestrial and marine biosecurity respectively.

Forest and Bird is calling for 100 percent inspection and cleaning of shipping containers, instead of the current target of 25 percent, as too many pests can sneak in on shipping containers.

Keey said, "Biosecurity is probably the most heavily reviewed area of government work. Reviews to date have made over 150 recommendations. Now its time to turn those recommendations into action."