Tourist foodies a clear and present danger _______________________________
Tourists looking for a cheap holiday here by bringing their own food are presenting a new and growing biosecurity threat, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director of border clearance services, Steve Gilbert said.
There are a whole range of new travellers visiting this country due to very cheap flights from Asia, meaning that people who had not been able to afford to travel previously now could. These self-catering tourists are bringing large quantities of their own fruit, vegetables and other food with them to further reduce costs while they are here.
“From 3 to 5pm every day you will see four or five examples of this at Auckland International Airport,” he said.
One international student, for example, brought in 60 packets of chilli sauce in her luggage, one for every week she was here, because it was one tenth of the price in her homeland.
Other backpacking tourists were gifted fruit when they left and chose to bring it with them into this country. It was confiscated and the tourists were put then on the first flight home.
Another issue is rising luggage allowances, with some airlines letting each passenger bring 45 kilograms with them. If they are travelling in a group of three or four, that amount of baggage takes MPI staff a lot of time and effort to search, Gilbert said.
There has been a 9% increase in tourist numbers this summer compared with
_____________ last year, with an average of 18,000 passengers a day coming through Auckland International Airport in January. From December 2016 to February 28 this year there were 2,963 undeclared items seized, which might mean around 15,000 items picked up annually.
An average of 300 people a week were fined $400 for not declaring food in their luggage, with most saying they “simply forgot about it”, such as a piece of fruit not cleaned out of a backpack.
Gilbert said while 95% of travellers want to comply with New Zealand’s biosecurity regulations, some still “just don’t get it”.
“They think one apple can’t do any harm,” he said.
And some did not believe there was any need to clean a tent used in the United States before bringing it here, despite the risk from soil and vegetative matter still on it.
In the last four years, quarantine staff numbers have grown from 330 to 550 with detector dogs increasing from 20 to 60, which requires 100 of the animals to keep that number in the field. Increased spending had gone into technology, such as more x-ray machines.
“We have been through a fair amount of change and there will be more wherever we go,” he said.
A lot more brown marmorated stink bugs, which pose a significant threat to New Zealand agriculture, had been found this year compared with last year. MPI is working closely with machinery importers to make sure agricultural equipment is heat treated in its home country before being sent here.
“If not, we will send it to Australia and they will probably send it to Singapore,” he said.
Transitional facilities are being reduced so there is less risk of containers being opened in agricultural areas, such as Pukekohe, from where pests could rapidly spread. And it will be hard for any new transitional facilities to be established now.
Gilbert said seed imports have been incredibly challenging, with certification from some countries not able to be taken at face value.
There are 7.1 million items of mail inspected each year, with the balance of the originating countries having changed in recent years: There has been a 49% drop in mail items coming from Australia and locally, but a 117% increase in the volume from China.
“And people will put anything in an envelope, such as seeds and plant material, and that’s significantly increasing.”
One grower asked Gilbert if $400 was a large enough fine for not declaring prohibited items if it is not deterring people.
“We get very few re-offenders,” he said.
“We’re not quite that generous.”
▴ Steve Gilbert.