Officials responsible for managing New Zealand's biosecurity admit there are gaps in plans for dealing with serious breaches, including a potentially catastrophic outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
A report by the auditor-general found that while the Ministry of Primary Industries had largely been successful in dealing with past incursions, it was not properly prepared for potential incursions of high-risk organisms.
Foot and mouth is a infectious and potentially fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. There has never been an outbreak in New Zealand, but it is considered one of the greatest threats to the farming industry.
A Reserve Bank report predicted an outbreak would cost New Zealand's economy $13 billion in the first two years, with primary products blocked from many export markets.
The auditor-general's report highlighted a series of mergers in which responsibility for biosecurity has passed between government departments five times in nine years.
Spending on the biosecurity activities covered by the report in 2011-12 was at the lowest level in at least five years.
Auditor-General Lyn Provost said there were "many instances" where new biosecurity initiatives were never completed or embedded.
As well as a series of specific recommendations for a foot and mouth outbreak, the report recommended MPI take a reality check.
"Make all biosecurity planning more realistic by ensuring that plans reflect likely constraints on resources and reflect more accurately the capacity available to deliver them."
Andrew Coleman, deputy director-general of the MPI, said steps were already being taken to address issues highlighted by the report, but he acknowledged there was still issues. "There are still some gaps, but we're working towards filling these gaps over time."
Biosecurity preparedness was a continual process, but some of the specific recommendations, such as dealing with hundreds of carcasses in a foot and mouth outbreak, should be dealt with within 12 months, Mr Coleman said.
A spokesman for Federated Farmers saidthe department was working much more closely with industry on biosecurity, although there was still "a long way to go".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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