• John Luxton

The Minister for Biosecurity Hon John Luxton said today it was very important that we have a good animal health laboratory service in New Zealand. He said that no decisions had yet been made on how to improve the overall service for the country.

Mr Luxton said today, "The Labour spokesperson on Agriculture, Hon Jim Sutton, is incorrect in statements he has made speculating on closure of all the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry ?s regional Animal Health Laboratories. No such decision has been made."

The future of the regional Animal Health Laboratory network is under discussion and is being considered by the directors of one of the two state-owned enterprises being set up by the Government to corporatise parts of MAF Quality Management (MQM), the service delivery arm of the ministry.

"The Government is progressively implementing the recommendations of the independent review of MQM completed in 1997. This involves changes to the way surveillance and monitoring of the health of the nation?s animals is carried out. But this does not involve a loss of competence in the system," Mr Luxton emphasised.

The Animal Health Laboratories currently provide a laboratory diagnostic service to vets who submit samples to them, in a similar way to GPs submitting samples to medical laboratories.

"In the past the laboratory service has provided information to the Chief Veterinary Officer regarding the animal health status of New Zealand. The independent MQM review recommended that in the future the health of animal populations would be more effectively monitored through targeted surveys and be less dependent on routine information from diagnostic laboratories.

"The Establishment Board of the new SOE is currently working through options on how best to configure the laboratory set-up to adapt to this new progressive approach," he said.

"Regardless, veterinary practitioners have a statutory obligation to notify suspicions of a significant animal disease. This does not depend on which laboratory they might send samples to.

"In my experience, veterinarians take their responsibility very seriously. Unlike Mr Sutton I have more faith in our veterinarians. I am sure they will continue to operate professionally in the future,? the Minister said.