An agriculturally reliant region such as the Waikato has cause to become curious, if not concerned, when quarantine inspectors raise issues they claim are threatening New Zealand's biosecurity. One question is to find who – exactly – has made those claims. Another is to find what motivated them.
Unidentified Primary Industries Ministry staff are said to have raised concerns about how their organisation is being managed (or mismanaged) in an anonymous letter. Primary Industries Minister David Carter noted it had been published while the ministry is engaged in wage contract negotiations. It should not be surprising that staff may make these sorts of allegations. Anyway, the letter was "full of inaccuracies".
But John Lancashire, a scientist – and a former president of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Scientists – has raised concerns, too. In a newspaper article last year, he questioned the effect of the push for free trade deals on the country's biosecurity.
Certainly, the National Beekeepers' Association and the Pork Industry Board had been resisting ministry attempts to abolish import restrictions on honey from Australia and to permit imports of raw pig meat from countries such as the United States and Denmark. Honey producers feared the introduction of foul brood while pig farmers feared imports might bring in a devastating pig virus, PRRS. Detailed industry reports challenged the technical assumptions given by officials to justify the relaxation of controls, which seemed to be influenced by pressure from our trading partners.
Mr Lancashire recently reiterated his concerns. Essentially, he believes New Zealand has moved to a "softer" position on biosecurity, a view given credence by the anonymous staff letter aired in media this week and by Labour's Damien O'Connor parliamentary questions about biosecurity programme cuts in 2009 and 2010.
Mr Carter has defended his government's expenditure on biosecurity in those years. His data showed a net increase of $22.53 million. More critically, he must rebut Mr Lancashire's claim that the "precautionary principle" – whereby restrictions remain in place if there is the slightest risk – has been scrapped.
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