Keynote Address To The 3rd National Pest Summit

  • John Luxton

Biosecurity: The Role And Intentions Of The Government To Protect The National Interest

Ladies and gentlemen, your Worship Jill White, thank you for the invitation to address you today.

Judging by the programme, it looks as though you've got some fascinating discussions ahead.

I've been asked to speak on "The role and intentions of the Government in biosecurity to protect the national interest."

There are three important areas I want to focus on today:

- the Government's role in the co-ordination of biosecurity;
- the Government's involvement as a partner in pest management; and
- our commitment to ensuring robust systems are in place for managing the biosecurity risks associated with the increasing movement of people and goods.

Setting the scene First to recap.

Biosecurity is legally unpinned by the Biosecurity Act which came into effect in 1993. It's introduction signalled a number of changes in the way biosecurity was managed and viewed.

Previously, pest management largely had an agricultural or horticultural focus. But this tended to overlook a series of pests, such as environmental pests.

With the passing of the Biosecurity Act, now when we talk about biosecurity pests, it includes a wide range of organisms that are harmful not only to production industries, but to the environment in the wider sense, including the terrestrial, freshwater and marine environment, as well as to people.

Now the word pest includes undesirable animals, undesirable plants such as weeds, and organisms that attack animals and plants including disease-causing micro-organisms.

The Biosecurity Act not only changed the organisms we think of as pests, it also changed the way these pests are managed and the organisations that manage them.

There was a change to a more flexible approach in how organisms can be managed, tailored to the needs in particular areas.

No longer was there a requirement to take action against certain prescribed pests, but a change to a cost-benefit approach. Now the benefits of taking action against a pest must be weighed against the costs.

And, the Biosecurity Act now recognises that there are a wide range of people and organisations with an interest in ensuring that pests are well managed. The Act enables people to take responsibility for managing pests through the development of pest management strategies.

This approach broadened the scope of which pests could be managed, how they could be managed, and by whom.

The ability for other affected parties to become involved has changed the Government's role in biosecurity. It provides opportunities for partnership in pest management between Government and others with an interest in managing a particular pest. With the recognition that a large number of sectors and groups have an interest in biosecurity, comes a need for co-ordination.

I would like to address these two aspects more fully:

- the Government's role in co-ordination; and
- the Government as a partner in pest management.

Departments with an interest in biosecurity

There are four government departments with operational responsibilities for biosecurity in terms of the Biosecurity Act. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Ministry of Health.

Other government agencies with an interest in biosecurity, but with no operational mandate are the Ministry for the Environment, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

The Biosecurity Council

In 1997, the Hon Simon Upton established the Biosecurity Council to co-ordinate the activities of these agencies.

I have maintained the association with the Biosecurity Council because it provides an invaluable mechanism for co-ordination at the national level.

The Biosecurity Council is an advisory body to me as Minister for Biosecurity and Border Control. It co-ordinates the activities of government departments with an interest in biosecurity matters, and ensures a consistent approach to decision-making by those departments. In particular, it provides advice on strategic biosecurity matters in three areas:

- setting priorities for outputs purchased by the Government;
- responses to biosecurity risks; and
- the appropriate level of protection for New Zealand.

The Council's terms of reference were revised in December. The current Chair is John Hellstrom.

Dr Hellstrom is a past Chief Veterinary Officer in MAF, and has been the General Manager of Schering-Plough in Upper Hutt for seven years. So his experience in both the public and private sectors provides a very valuable dimension to the work of the Biosecurity Council.

The other members of the Biosecurity Council are the chief executives of MAF, Conservation, Fisheries, Health, Environment, MoRST, ERMA New Zealand and the head of the new Biosecurity Authority which I will talk about shortly.

The Biosecurity Council also includes a representative from regional councils. Regional councils are involved in biosecurity through their extensive work in regional pest management strategies, and of course they also have an interest in any national policies or programmes that dovetail with regional approaches.

Previously the Council also included the chief technical officers from MAF, Conservation, Fisheries and Health. However, it became obvious that a separate group was needed to focus on specific biosecurity issues, and work through the detail of matters raised with the Council.

The Biosecurity Technical Forum has recently been set up to address specific biosecurity issues. Its first meeting was last week. This Forum will look at policy, technical and operational matters before they are brought to the Council for consideration or approval.

The Forum now comprises the six chief technical officers appointed under the Biosecurity Act. Three in MAF, and one in each of Conservation, Fisheries and Health and a policy representative from each department as well as the other government agencies with an interest in biosecurity. It will also include the head of the new Biosecurity Authority and the secretariat of the Biosecurity Council.

The secretariat is an important link between these two groups and ensures co-ordination between departments.

The secretariat is located in MAF and will be part of the Biosecurity Authority when it is established.

The Biosecurity Authority

From 1 July this year, the MAF Regulatory Authority is being reorganised into a Biosecurity Authority and a Food Assurance Authority. The Biosecurity Authority will be headed by Barry O'Neil currently the Chief Veterinary Officer in MAF.

The primary role of the Biosecurity Authority will be to protect New Zealand's biosecurity status, and improve market access for specified agricultural, horticultural, and forestry products. It will be responsible for border control, quarantine services, pest and disease surveillance, and emergency response capabilities.

It will also be responsible for providing animal and plant health assurances to New Zealand's trading partners for certain products, and for the management of animal welfare issues.

The new Authority will play a key role in the Biosecurity Council and its Technical Forum. One of the Authority's roles will be to work with the Council to ensure co-ordination across the biosecurity departments, and consistency and efficiency in biosecurity assessments and responses.

Border review

Of course the day to day management of biosecurity issues still depends to a large extent on border control.

One of the obvious ways to achieve effective biosecurity is to ensure there are robust systems at the border.

To ensure that the systems in place are the best that they can be, the Government has commissioned an independent review of border activities.

The review team comprises Sir Ron Carter as the chair, Dr Peter O'Hara and Rick Christie.

Sir Ron is the executive chairman of the BECA Group Ltd and a director of Air New Zealand and a number of other companies and institutions. He is also a former chair of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Dr O'Hara recently retired as Deputy Director-General of MAF and has wide experience in government management, animal health, and trade policy. Mr Christie is the former chief executive of both the New Zealand Trade Development Board and the Game Industry Board.

Along with their considerable experience, I am confident that they will bring a fresh and innovative approach to the review.

The review team will investigate and advise on options for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of New Zealand's border control systems. In doing this, it will look at whether it is desirable or even feasible to amalgamate the functions currently carried out by different agencies which operate at the border into a single border service agency.

The team will also look at the relative costs, benefits, risks and time frames associated with any proposed changes.

The review will focus on the border operations of MAF and the New Zealand Customs Service, as well as the secondary processing undertaken by the New Zealand Immigration Service, and the functions of the Aviation Security Service. It will also consider implementation of the policy and regulatory objectives that are achieved through the border agencies.

The review team will make recommendations on options for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of government's border control operations.

They will take into account the Government's desire to ensure protection of New Zealand from biosecurity and other threats, while at the same time continuing to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people, goods and craft across the border.

Co-ordination of pest management strategies - the Pest Management Advisory Committee

I also want to mention another area where I believe co-ordination is essential. That is in the development and implementation of pest management strategies, both regional or national. There is considerable value in information sharing.

The Pest Management Strategy Advisory Committee has been formed for this purpose. It is an advisory body to me as Minister of Biosecurity. It provides a valuable opportunity for groups proposing to develop a pest management strategy to learn from the experiences of others.

Any group considering developing a strategy can join this committee. Indeed I would encourage them to do so, to avoid pitfalls and any unnecessary costs.

Pest management strategy development and implementation - a partnership approach

I mentioned the concept of a partnership approach between the Government and other groups with an interest in pest management.

Regional pest management strategies are now in place in almost all regions to cover pests of concern at the regional level.

And national strategies are in place to deal with two diseases that are widespread in New Zealand:

the bovine tuberculosis strategy managed by the Animal Health Board, and
the American foulbrood strategy managed by the National Beekeepers' Association.

Developing and implementing these pest management strategies has not been easy. But many of the difficulties that the various agencies experienced have been overcome through amendments to the Biosecurity Act.

Several other strategies for managing pests already established in New Zealand are underway. A proposal that covers the four 'noxious' weeds: Johnson grass, salvinia, Cape tulip and water hyacinth is being prepared by MAF with the aim of implementing it next year. And the Ministry of Fisheries are preparing a national strategy for managing the seaweed undaria.

All the strategies I have mentioned deal with pests already in New Zealand. These strategies have been, or are being, developed in consultation with the communities affected by the pests they cover.

But what about those pests that are not yet in New Zealand? Pest management strategies for serious exotic pests are essentially contingency plans. They provide a type of insurance that certain actions will occur if the organism of concern is ever found here.

Developing strategies for exotic species presents an additional challenge since the nature and extent of those effects, aren't as obvious as the effects of organisms already here. Again, these strategies need to be developed and implemented in close co-operation with those who are likely to be affected.

The Ministry of Health has drafted a national pest management strategy for exotic mosquitoes of public health concern.

MAF is developing a national strategy for fruit flies, and another for lymantriids, a group of moths which includes gypsy moth and the white-spotted tussock moth.

Over the next few years MAF will also be involved in developing pest management strategies for some 30-odd exotic animal diseases with industries and other affected groups.

It's not possible to develop strategies for every single exotic organism and there's no intention to even attempt to. But we must have contingency plans for those exotic organisms that may appear in New Zealand from time to time, or those known to have a devastating effect should they occur here.

Developing strategies for exotic organisms will not be an easy task. But they are necessary to provide certainty that actions will occur.

In particular the funding of these strategies will need to be addressed during their development. Funding should be shared between those who can be identified as benefiting from the control measures and those who have contributed to the problem.

Gone are the days of relying solely on the Government to fund responses to all incursions of exotic organisms. I am not saying that the Government has no role here. Government does have a role, but in partnership with those affected.

Risks associated with the international movement of people and goods

One of the biggest challenges is managing the biosecurity risks that come associated with the international movement of people and goods. There are three parts to this:

- setting health standards for the movement of people and goods
- our detection operations at the border; and
- our surveillance systems to detect any incursions of harmful organisms inside New Zealand.

MAF's Regulatory Authority, and from 1 July the Biosecurity Authority's, primary objective, is to provide assurance by managing biosecurity risks and protecting New Zealand's enviable animal and plant health status. These assurances are based on more than just border inspections.

The Government conducts risk assessments before agreeing conditions for risk goods to be allowed into New Zealand. Goods that may carry pests or unwanted organisms must meet the requirements of an import health standard before those

goods can enter New Zealand. These conditions might include testing or treatment either offshore in the exporting country or on arrival, along with assurances from other Government authorities.

These conditions are established before the goods get anywhere near New Zealand.

I know a common argument is that if a pest is discovered in New Zealand, the border control systems must have failed, and therefore it is the Government's fault so we of course should pay for it.

I do not accept that argument. Firstly, organisms do not always come in past our border control people. Some organisms arrive here naturally. The recent incursion of the tropical grass webworm in Northland is a good case in point.

Secondly, border controls are in place to manage risks. New Zealand does not operate a zero-risk trade policy. We operate under a risk management framework.

We simply would not trade if we accepted a zero level of risk. As a trading nation we need to be able to import where it is safe to do so, and also export our goods without undue restrictions.

There will always be some risks. But our border protection systems are designed to minimise these risks. They are held in high regard internationally and are some of the most effective in the world.

Detection capability at the border reached new levels with the purchase of X-ray machines. These machines are state-of-the-art, with sophisticated features for detecting biological risk goods.

There are now four X-ray machines at Auckland Airport, one each in the airports of Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch and one at the Auckland Mail Centre.

Supplementing the X-ray machines is the Quarantine Detector Dog programme. There are currently five teams of beagles in the international airport at Auckland, two in Christchurch and one in Wellington. Another team of dogs work behind the scenes in the Auckland Mail Centre.

These dogs are highly proficient at detecting unwelcome plant and animal products in baggage and mail.

In the six months to December 1998, over 1.5 million passengers landed at New Zealand airports. That's about 60,000 per week. Around 43,000 high risk goods were seized from these passengers during the same six month period, and around 10,000 were not declared.

On a daily basis, that means there are over 8,000 travellers arriving in New Zealand. We're currently averaging about 240 detections per day of goods that pose a high risk and require seizure, of which, on average, more than 50 are undeclared.

On top of the detection network, there is the MAF Quarantine Service Awareness Strategy, which includes in-flight videos shown to arriving air travellers, and a regular monitoring programme using predictive models.

As well as the work at the airports, approximately 120,000 packages were examined through the Auckland Mail Centre during the last six months of 1998.

And the work isn't confined to passenger arrivals or the mailroom. On the cargo clearance front, approximately 30,000 consignments, around 170,000 sea containers and 70,000 used vehicles were cleared during this six month period.

And more than seventeen hundred vessels were checked and cleared.

So there is a lot to monitor.

The recent interceptions of exotic mosquitoes and gypsy moths are obviously cause for concern. But I reject the allegations of some, that this means our border control systems are breaking down. In fact quite the opposite. It's as a result of increased vigilance that we are better able to detect exotic organisms.

Recent interceptions highlight the vital work carried out by government agencies in protecting New Zealand from unwanted pests and diseases which pose a risk to agriculture, horticulture, forestry, the natural environment and human health.

It is obvious that the world economy is expanding and international trade is increasing rapidly. Our border is a dynamic situation and risks are changing all the time. Clearly the increased volume of trade has introduced new risks.

And this is where the third element of our risk management system comes in. The Government is investing millions of dollars a year in surveillance for harmful organisms. This vigilance supports our work at the border to ensure we have effective barriers to the entry and establishment of harmful organisms. It will mean we find more pests, but this does not mean we are putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

Managing the biosecurity risks associated with the international movement of people and goods involves a package of measures:

- offshore before things reach our borders;
- at the border; and
- an active surveillance programme to detect any incursions in New Zealand.

SPS agreement and biosecurity

One reason New Zealand doesn't operate a 'zero-risk' trade policy is because of the SPS agreement. This is the World Trade Organisation agreement which deals with protecting animal and plant health, and protecting people on food safety issues.

While many people see the SPS agreement as a 'trade' agreement, and regard it as compromising our biosecurity, in fact this is not the case.

The SPS agreement is about trade. And we have to recognise that the world's trading environment has changed radically from the days when we could operate a 'Fortress New Zealand' policy for agricultural products.

The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, was concluded in 1994. It established clear rules for trade, including for agriculture, and a judicial mechanism to enforce them. Both the inclusion of agriculture, and the creation of an effective disputes settlement regime, were major innovations in the Uruguay Round.

Relatively early in the round, the SPS agreement was concluded to stop countries using spurious science to establish artificial SPS barriers. Otherwise countries could hide behind spurious health protection measures to stop trade that was now beginning to flow because other Uruguay Round agreements were eliminating quotas, and reducing tariffs.

These developments were overwhelmingly positive for New Zealand.

The SPS agreement fundamentally changed the way countries think about trade in products with potential SPS implications.

The aim now is to allow trade in primary products unless there are good, scientific reasons not to.

That's a major change in thinking. It has major implications for us as agricultural exporters.

But this agreement also has major implications for our border protection policies. The SPS agreement isn't just about promoting trade; in fact it's a powerful ally we can use in setting measures to protect our environment.

The first principle of the SPS agreement is national sovereignty. All WTO members have an inalienable right to protect their biosecurity. And as an island nation New Zealand can set its own level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection against risks.

In fact the agreement goes further; it aims "to improve the human health, animal health and phytosanitary situation" in all WTO member countries. And I should refute one further misconception. The SPS agreement is not only concerned with protecting production agriculture. It quite clearly covers environmental issues, and explicitly states that " 'animal' includes fish and wild fauna, and 'plant' includes forests and wild flora".

The SPS agreement isn't about trade-offs between agriculture and our conservation values. But it does impose disciplines on us, whether we are implementing biosecurity measures to protect our unique conservation resource or our economically important agriculture.

In fact there is a fundamental tension between national sovereignty, and the requirement that any biosecurity measures aren't inconsistent with the agreement.

There are a number of disciplines in the agreement, but I will mention two basic principles.

Necessity: SPS measures must be applied only to the extent necessary. They must be based on scientific principles, and maintained only while justified by science. Border protection measures can be put in place only if there is a demonstrable risk to human, animal or plant health, and only if the measures can be scientifically shown to mitigate against those risks.

Secondly, non-discrimination: WTO members can't discriminate against foreign suppliers compared to local ones. This is the so-called national treatment principle, and means for instance that we can't apply border measures with respect to diseases that aren't under statutory control within New Zealand. The aim of this principle is that sanitary measures are not to be applied in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.

We can't discriminate between WTO members where identical or similar conditions prevail. This is referred to as the most-favoured nation principle, and requires us to be even-handed in our treatment of other countries.

The SPS agreement is part of the discipline New Zealand accepted by becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation, but does not take away our right to protect our biosecurity. It actually helps us validate our biosecurity systems, in the face of possible trade pressure from other countries wanting to export products to New Zealand.


To conclude, I'll briefly recap on the issues I've covered this afternoon.

I talked about how the definition of biosecurity has broadened from production agriculture to cover a wider range of environmental issues. This has required greater co-ordination between the relevant departments. In this context I mentioned the role of the Biosecurity Council, the new Biosecurity Technical Forum and the new Biosecurity Authority.

The review of border services is also about co-ordination of agencies working at the border. And the Pest Management Strategy Advisory Committee also plays an important co-ordination role for those groups preparing or implementing pest management strategies.

The second theme of my address was the need for partnership between the Government and other groups with an interest in pest management. Regional pest management strategies are in place in almost all regions to cover pests of concern at the regional level. And two national strategies have been implemented in the past year.

Work is in progress on several national strategies for endemic and exotic pests. I really would urge interested groups to become involved in the development of these strategies. The days of Government funding responses to all pest incursions are over.

Finally, I talked about Government's commitment to maintaining robust systems for dealing with the biosecurity risks that are incurred when people and goods cross our border. Government departments set health standards for any goods that might pose a risk. We have a world class border detection operation. And we have an extensive surveillance system to detect any incursions of harmful organisms.

Biosecurity continues to be, a priority of this Government. Our animal and plant health status is an important attribute of this country and an important basis for our economic well-being.

This summit is an important forum for discussing biosecurity issues. I commend the organisers for making it possible, and I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.