Labour: Govt ignored biosecurity warning

PSA THREAT: Labour says the government has repeatedly ignored biosecurity warnings.
PSA THREAT: Labour says the government has repeatedly ignored biosecurity warnings.

A damning report into the outbreak of kiwifruit virus PSA is another in a series of warnings over the biosecurity system that the Government has failed to act on, Labour's biosecurity spokesman Damien O'Connor says.

The independent report was commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) following the devastation caused by the virus in the Bay of Plenty orchards with an estimated cost of $400 million.

The report, released yesterday, found "shortcomings" in New Zealand's biosecurity system although it could not say how the incursion had occurred.

It said MPI could improve protections and must work more closely with industry groups.

The report also suggested resources be moved from low-risk industries to high-risk ones such as the kiwifruit sector.

O'Connor said there needed to be a complete overhaul of the biosecurity system.

The National Government cut biosecurity funding in 2009 and had accepted the growing risk caused by faults in the system, he said.

"There are faults at every part of the process and system, clearly there are inadequate resources."

The sector had been relying on inaccurate science, a lack of risk-analysis, inadequate border surveillance and poor resourcing which meant it was "failing New Zealand".

"This is one more in a series of warnings that the Government has refused to accept and act on, and I fear that once again the Government will fail to act properly on this."

The Government had its priorities wrong, O'Connor said.

Green Party biosecurity spokesman Steffan Browning was also concerned about resources simply being moved from sector to sector.

"The report's recommendation to move biosecurity resources to only a few key sectors will allow major biosecurity threats through the back door."

Primary Industries Minister David Carter said the recommendations of the report must be implemented immediately.

The Government had moved quickly after the PSA incursion was first discovered in 2010 and was working towards better connectedness with industry, he said.

MPI Director-General Wayne McNee says the ministry will implement all six recommendations from the review and report on progress in three months.

More border biosecurity staff were being recruited but the recommendations were more about how the agency communicated with affected sectors.

"It's about making sure everybody understands how to work together to minimise the chance of future incursions."

Some kiwifruit growers were considering taking legal action over the incursion.

McNee said MPI would defend itself against any legal action.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco said many growers had lost all, or part, of their livelihoods.

The real benefit of the report was improving future biosecurity, he said.

Fairfax Media