Opinion: biosecurity cuts could be costly
By Horticulture New Zealand president Andrew Fenton
The discovery of the Queensland fruit fly in Auckland earlier this month shows restructuring for ‘efficiencies’ has failed and is now putting the primary industry at tremendous risk.
Way back in 1996, successive fruit fly detections led to the introduction of biosecurity x-rays for passenger bags. In the intervening 16 years we didn't find a single fruit fly in traps. Last year the Government abandoned its 100% baggage x-ray policy and this month we found a Queensland fruit fly in a trap.
Ministry for Primary Industries staff are superb and dedicated to robust border control systems but they can only work with the resources they are given.
Surveillance beyond the airports and ports is good but it's only there to catch the ball after border security has dropped it.
We all support more efficient government but when it comes to biosecurity; effectiveness is what it's all about, because the cost to us all is so great if we get it wrong.
Earlier this year, Jamaican footballer Tramaine Stewart was fined NZD$400 (US$305) after an apple was found in his bag at Auckland Airport. He had passed numerous ‘declare or dispose’ signs and had gone through a series of questions from immigration and uniformed inspectors before the apple was picked up in his bag by an x-ray machine. He said, and I'm sure it was true, that he simply "forgot" the apple was in his bag.
How many others forget and slip through without their bags being x-rayed? Put bluntly, the reduced screening ‘direct exit’ policy is window dressing.
This cost-cutting is putting our agriculture and horticulture industries at grave risk. And at what cost? To save travellers passing through our airports 10 or 15 minutes - this is complete lunacy.
For frequent travellers, the dropping of the 100% baggage x-ray has sent all the wrong messages and significantly reduced the importance of biosecurity in their minds.
The Government needs to stop undermining the importance of stringent border controls before it's too late. HortNZ has called for the reinstatement of 100% x-raying of baggage.
We also need increased funding for more detector dogs, which have proven to be most effective in identifying food, plants and pests at our borders.
Passing through Auckland Airport after my flight from Australia, a detector dog passed me without interest before becoming very animated around another passenger. Biosecurity officers immediately closed in for a thorough inspection.
I wonder, what if this person had been arriving in Wellington, where there have been no detector dogs on duty since 2011?
A piece of fruit a passenger didn't get around to eating and dropped into their bag could be potentially devastating for my business and that of growers across New Zealand.
I shudder to think about a 1.5km controlled area like the one in Avondale now being transposed to my hometown of Te Puke in the peak of the kiwifruit harvesting season.
Just one fruit fly could change the face of growing across New Zealand. Psa is already having a damn good go. The potato and tomato industries are investing heavily to fight a nasty bug called psyllid; foot and mouth disease could be next.
One or two serious incursions and vast swathes of our horticulture and agriculture sector could be staring into the abyss for years, resulting in a huge blow to our primary industries, a key driver of the economy.