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.

NZ Grower - - Election 2017 -

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.

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