Protecting New Zealand’s borders – isolation is not enough

19 Feb 2018

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New Zealand’s isolation from the rest of the world has, until recently, protected our country from many pests and diseases. By good luck and some good management we have kept a lot of the world’s pests and diseases out of New Zealand. In recent years, however, that situation has changed, and the consequences could be devastating.

The kiwifruit industry faced Psa; psyllids have been a problem for tamarillos, tomatoes, and potatoes; and then there’s myrtle rust in many plants, Kauri dieback, and Mycoplasma bovis affecting cattle. On top of this, every so often we get a fruit fly incursion and we are getting ready for the possible arrival of the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). Psa, fruit fly,Mycoplasma bovis and the BMSB are common in other parts of the world. For example, in Australia, many fruit flies are endemic, they have already had a BMSB detection in residential Sydney, and they have Mycoplasma bovis.

Exports are vital for New Zealand’s economic survival. We need every competitive advantage we can get. We are the furthest trading nation from the world’s prime markets and so it is costly to get our produce to market. We have some of the world’s best growing conditions, so we produce the finest food found from anywhere in the world which is highly sought after. But we are not a cheap food producer. Environmental sustainability and paying competitive wages makes New Zealand a moreexpensive producer than some of our key trading rivals, such as Chile. Chile is closer to key markets and produces at about a third the cost of New Zealand.

One of our biggest and best advantages is being free from a lot of pests and diseases. For New Zealand to remain competitive in international markets and to bring back to New Zealand high export earnings, biosecurity is essential. If it establishes and breeds here, the brown marmorated stink bug would devastate New Zealand horticulture and invade many homes and backyards as well. Economists, NZIER have calculated that the cost to New Zealand would be a massive $4 billion a year. This would have a considerable impact on our rural economies. We can’t let this happen.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) runs a comprehensive programme both at the border and pre-border to protect New Zealand from new pest and diseases that would devastate our economy. This includes the BMSB. The Ministry is to be commended for recently turning away ships and their cargos that did not meet the border standards. These standards are well known. When importers don’t meet these well-known border standards, should New Zealand turn a blind eye? We believe never. To protect our environment New Zealand has to uphold these standards. The Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister and MPI are doing an excellent job holding the line at the border. All of us in the primary industries need to support them to keep doing their job and become even more vigilant. The loss to New Zealand from each incursion of a pest or disease is financially crippling and impacts whole communities.

Prevention is without a doubt without the best cure.

- Mike Chapman, CEO