Article: Biosecurity worries
Peter Silcock is the Chief Executive of HortNZ
New Zealand’s commercial fruit and vegetable growers have no shortage of issues to keep them lying awake at night. The mortgage, the weather, the price of energy, petrol, fertiliser, water meters, frost fans – all that good stuff. And then there is biosecurity.
The risk to New Zealand horticulture from pest and disease incursions is so great, so significant, and so costly, it has growers breaking out in a cold sweat. The problem with biosecurity is that it is a numbers game. It is all about risk.
MPI Biosecurity knows there are roughly 25 detections of undeclared potentially fruit fly carrying materials at the New Zealand border every day − about 9,000 every year. That is the risk horticulture lives with. The potential is there, 25 times a day, for a Queensland fruit fly to find a home in New Zealand as it does on a regular basis in the supposedly fruit fly free regions of Tasmania, South Australia and NSW.
If the Queensland fruit fly is detected here then our fresh fruit and vegetable market access into more than 100 countries is immediately under threat and may stay closed to us for a year or more. That is $2.5 billion at risk, every year and it only takes one fruit fly.
Agreeing to disagree
MPI has come up with a plan for dealing with this risk and for the likelihood of pest and disease incursions. The GIA means the government and the horticulture industry will agree on how New Zealand will respond to an incursion. But there is a bit more to it than that, and at this stage after nearly five years of discussion, the GIA is not a whole lot closer to getting the agreement it is after.
The idea is for MPI and industry to be better prepared to handle pest incursions because they will have both worked together to identify the pest threats before they arrive. They will figure out how the pests will be dealt with, and agree who will pay for the clean-up if required. They call this joint resourcing and decision-making.
In June the Primary Production Select Committee heard submissions from a variety of primary production representative groups, including HortNZ and the Kiwifruit Growers Inc, on the proposed Biosecurity Law Reform Bill. One of the aspects of this new law is to allow the government to press ahead with GIA.
The horticulture industry certainly has no problem with the concept of joint decision-making. However, it would be fair to say the response to the suggestion of government and industry cost sharing to cover pest incursion clean-ups has so far been less than enthusiastic. Back in December 2007, HortNZ made its first submission on GIA and we said ‘The horticulture industry is sceptical about MPI accepting industry in a full decision-making capacity.’
Since then we have kept saying much the same thing, although it is now becoming very clear that the rate of pest incursions is increasing. This means that what we are doing now in terms of biosecurity prevention and protection is not working. I told the select committee that the current situation is not good for horticulture, particularly the industry strategy of reaching $10 billion in value by 2020.
But industry has some significant concerns about the way the GIA is supposed to work, and just how much it will cost. I am also concerned that there are few, if any, sectors of horticulture that will even qualify for government support because their overall contribution to the economy is perceived to be too low.
What are the costs?
New Zealand’s growers do not need to be told what a pest incursion can cost. It is not rocket science. When a pest is found, trade stops and money is lost, never to be recovered. Then there is the cost of the clean-up, or the cost of surviving without a clean-up, increased use of plant protection, developing new tools and finding new markets.
Then there is the off-farm effect. How much does the community lose? The earnings, the suppliers, and the downstream effects are almost impossible to quantify. A study commissioned by HortNZ in 2006 showed the immediate financial effect of a fruit fly incursion in the Bay of Plenty would be $800 million in the first year.
The cost of cleaning up the painted apple moth incursion in 1999 was $65 million. The question is, if industry has just lost $800 million, where is it going to find $30 million to pay its share of an eradication?
Another Australian model
GIA is based on an Australian model and their agreement is called the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed. It only involves the horticulture industries, which is not what is proposed in New Zealand. The Deed is administered by Plant Health Australia (PHA). PHA is a public company which was specifically set up in 2000 to collect funding to support the Deed which became operational in 2005, and it has more than 30 industry and government members, including state governments.
Funding for PHA comes from membership subscriptions paid by all the members and its budget for 2008/09 was A$4 million. PHA also has the power to levy members to cover incursion costs and is entirely separate from the Australian Department of Agriculture, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and Biosecurity Australia.
New Zealand’s horticulture industry representatives are calling for a similar organisation to be set up here to administer the GIA. It needs to be a totally independent body so it can facilitate and mediate discussion between the government and industry. Now industry is waiting to see how far the government is prepared to go to really make the GIA work, when so much talking has already been done without much agreement.
The horticulture industry is heartened by the recent government announcement agreeing to fund a minimum of 50 per cent of readiness and response programmes under the proposed GIA for biosecurity. HortNZ believes this is a major step forward and addresses industry concerns about the equity around funding arrangements. It will ensure better biosecurity for all New Zealand. We have asked for, and it has been agreed, that we need to discuss how industry can be better informed and engaged in border and pre-border biosecurity activity.
The horticulture industry is committed to improving biosecurity and believes that a constructive partnership between industry and the government is the best way to achieve that. Its priority now is to prepare industry and product biosecurity plans setting out our priority pests and the activities, plans and capability we need.