The recent find of a lone male fruit fly in Auckland has highlighted the importance of having good systems, such as the New Zealand National Biosecurity Capability Network (NBCN), in place to deal with biosecurity risks.
Time will tell whether the Queensland fruit fly was a one-off or not, but hopefully no further fruit flies are found. An established population would be detrimental to New Zealand's primary industries and economy.
In the fruit fly case, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) needs to be congratulated for its effective response to the find. It was especially good at keeping the industry updated on operational activities and events.
The incident also triggered fresh calls for tighter border protection. Unfortunately, no matter what we do at the border, New Zealand will always be vulnerable to the arrival of bio-security risks.
We can lower the risk using various strategies, such as trained sniffer beagles, x-rays, physical inspections and traveller profiling. However, being a nation reliant on trade and tourism as our main income earners, it is impossible to reduce the incursion risk to zero. For zero risk to be achieved we would need to wrap ourselves in a bubble, cease all trade and close down our borders. Even then, it would only be a matter of time before a stray bug found its way to our shores.
Although the majority of focus for New Zealand remains at the border, it is important to remember that biosecurity is more than just border protection. It encompasses a whole framework, inclusive of international treaties, readiness, surveillance, incursion response and pest management.
With this in mind, it is pleasing to see the recent establishment of the NBCN. This is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Primary Industries and AsureQuality to enhance biosecurity operational readiness and response.
The good part about the initiative is organisations such as Federated Farmers will be part of the supporting systems being developed to deliver specialist expertise, skills, equipment and materials or services for operations in a biosecurity response.
Farmers are known for their ability to provide leadership and support in emergencies, so being an official part of the NBCN makes good sense.
The vision for the NBCN is for New Zealand to build a team capable of dealing with any biosecurity emergency. If you look at this in the broad sense, we are a nation of more than four million sets of eyes. If everyone is tuned into observing unusual pests or diseases the chance of successfully responding to and killing them is enhanced.
In any response the most important requirement is skilled people-power. The NBCN is currently training selected people from chosen organisations on basic requirements such as the structure of biosecurity responses, the Biosecurity Act and working in response teams. Once trained, these people will be in a position to provide leadership and guidance to their members if they are required to assist within a biosecurity emergency.
In Federated Farmers' case, this could include providing skilled animal handlers, haulage and transport equipment,
traffic management, expert knowledge and call centre operators. By joining the network we are in a position to reduce the risk to farm businesses from possible financial loss which can occur from a harmful incursion.
Although the NBCN may have some future crossover with the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) process, it is
currently being progressed as a purely government-only funded mechanism.
The GIA is the policy being developed that will see industry groups and the Government partnering in readiness and response activities. The key principles are improved biosecurity, joint decision-making and cost sharing.
Alongside the development of the NBCN is the launch of a newly-formed MPI and initiatives such as joint border
management and GIA. There is a lot happening in the biosecurity space. It is good to be part of these developments,
as biosecurity is something which needs input from industries which are the most affected should something go wrong.