Virtual outbreak of foot-and-mouth a test
The Government is to test the country’s preparedness for a foot-and-mouth outbreak, one of a series of reviews of New Zealand’s biosecurity policies this year.
In March the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will lead a desktop exercise involving the Prime Minister’s Department, police and defence, to test how the country would try to contain a disease that would cause a temporary halt to virtually all meat and dairy exports.
It is the first review of its kind since 2005 although there was a hoax on Waiheke Island the same year.
Ministry director general Wayne Mcnee said a major biosecurity breach was the one element of his job that kept him awake at night. The fast-moving nature of foot-and-mouth would act as a test for many other biosecurity breaches.
‘‘Because of the nature of the disease there’s an incubation period, so before you even get the symptoms the disease has already been in the country for some time, and [once detected] you have to act very, very quickly to shut down movement.’’
Although New Zealand has never had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease – an incurable viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs and sheep – the ministry estimates an incursion could cost 20,000 jobs and knock $10 billion off the gross domestic product over two years, with all meat and dairy exports temporarily suspended.
An outbreak in Britain led to 10 million sheep and cattle being slaughtered and cost the country an estimated £8 billion (NZ$15.8B) in damage to its economy.
Mr Mcnee has announced an independent report will be commissioned into the decision to allow the import of pollen, which was highlighted as a possible cause of the Psa virus breaching New Zealand’s borders, causing serious damage to the kiwifruit industry.
The review would look at the evidence used to allow the import and ‘‘whether we should have done more reviews with the passing of time’’.
Another review will look at how a product to grow strawberries in a pot, which could have introduced new plant diseases into New Zealand, came to be for sale on the shelves in The Warehouse without going through the proper tests last year.
The ministry ordered a recall after the Buzzy branded pots were spotted by a ministry staff member.
Mr Mcnee also planned to look at whether the ministry was using its legal powers to properly punish people attempting to smuggle in organic matter that threatened New Zealand’s biosecurity, or whether he needed to seek greater legislative power.
BE PREPARED: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will lead an exercise to test how the country would try to contain a disease that would halt our meat and dairy industry.