Ministry criticised over foot and mouth plans

New Zealand plans to deal with a potentially devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease are inadequate, the Auditor General says, in a report which criticises the agency responsible for biosecurity.

In a report on the Ministry for Primary Industries preparedness for responding to biosecurity incursions, the Auditor General claims the ministry is too busy dealing with existing biosecurity incursions, rather than the threat of potential future incursions.

The report said that while MPI had "by and large" been successful in responding to previous outbreaks, not enough work had been on planning.

"Many response partners who have worked with MPI and its predecessors believe that stronger response capability is also needed," Auditor General Lyn Provost wrote in the overview to her report.

The report makes seven recommendations, including making biosecurity planning "more realistic by ensuring that plans reflect likely constraints on resources and reflect more accurately the capacity available to deliver them".

Significant work should be conducted to prepare for a foot and mouth outbreak in particular, including replacing the bio-containment laboratory, develop a plan to dispose of carcasses, and create a plan on how to use a vaccine.

In 2002, the Reserve Bank estimated that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would cut New Zealand's gross domestic product by $8 billion in one year and $13b over two years in today's prices.

"In 2012, New Zealand's GDP was $207 billion, which means an outbreak could devastate the country's economy," Provost's report states.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has not yet responded to requests for comment.

The report was tabled in Parliament just after 2pm. Attempts by Labour biosecurity spokesman Damien O'Connor to ask an urgent question on the report during Question Time were turned down by Speaker David Carter.

Green Party spokesman Steffan Browning said the report highlighted a lack of resource given to biosecurity staff, but the concern was that it only covered internal issues, and did not cover issues with front line border staff.

"What does concern me is that this report is purely on internal issues. It doesn't even address the shocking lack of resources going into border security."

Labour leader David Shearer said the Government had cut funding for biosecurity and merged the department responsible for it in a way which had "swamped" staff.

"The Government's slash and burn approach to biosecurity puts our entire country at risk," he said.

"It's extraordinary the Government has taken its eyes and its hands off the wheel when it comes to the most important issue around New Zealand which is biosecurity."

Public sector reforms had put responsibility for biosecurity within a "mega bureaucracy".

"It's got swamped by a big bureaucracy and has meant that the most important aspects that might protect New Zealand has been undermined."

He hoped staff at MPI would "get a rocket under them", as would Guy, claiming stakeholders who would be most affected by biosecurity breaches had lost faith in the ministry's ability to deal with biosecurity breaches.