Bio-se­cu­rity risks not worth gam­ble


es­caped into the com­mu­nity.

Last week, an­other ex­am­ple sur­faced. Au­thor­i­ties are still try­ing to mea­sure how ex­ten­sively the vel­vetleaf weed has pen­e­trated the coun­try’s biose­cu­rity de­fences.

As many as 300 farms from Waikato to South­land may cur­rently be spread­ing vel­vetleaf far and wide.

Ap­par­ently, the weed en­tered this coun­try amid some seed batches for the beet fod­der in­tended for farm an­i­mals.

Vel­vetleaf has been de­scribed as the plant equiv­a­lent of the Queens­land fruit fly. The weed com­petes ag­gres­sively for nu­tri­ents with ev­ery­thing in its vicin­ity.

Re­port­edly, vel­vetleaf can cut the yield from nor­mal farm pro­duc­tion from 35 to 90 per cent wher­ever it gets a foothold.

On South­land farms, teams of up to 40 field work­ers are be­ing de­ployed on search and de­stroy mis­sions. Two va­ri­eties of beet fod­der seed are known to have been con­tam­i­nated, and test­ing may re­veal more.

Nei­ther the coun­try of ori­gin nor the seed im­porter in­volved had been pub­licly iden­ti­fied, at time of writ­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, it could be dif­fi­cult to prove li­a­bil­ity and win com­pen­sa­tion for the costs of erad­i­ca­tion. Pre­sum­ably, the seed ship­ments were cer­ti­fied as safe at the point of dis­patch – but the con­tam­i­na­tion could have been present within the con­sign­ment, or oc­curred dur­ing trans­porta­tion or from the pal­lets used to pack and store the seed.

On ar­rival here, a rig­or­ous test­ing process is sup­posed to hap­pen, but New Zealand of­fi­cials may have re­lied upon the im­porters’ pa­per­work.

As an agri­cul­tural ex­porter, New Zealand faces a more se­ri­ous threat from bio-se­cu­rity than it does from Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists.

Cor­ners have been cut. As a pos­si­ble con­se­quence, our hard­pressed farm­ers now face a new pad­dock in­vader, one that could be­come a chronic threat to New Zealand’s farm pro­duc­tion.

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