A new report by the Office of the Auditor General found that New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which deals with biosecurity, had failed to plan sufficiently for potential incursions from high-risk organisms, including foot-and-mouth disease.
The report described the Ministry’s plan for dealing with an foot-and-mouth disease outbreak as “weak”, stating that it was “more a collection of policy statements than a comprehensive plan”. It pointed out that while more than $8m had been invested in developing an foot-and-mouth disease vaccine, there was no strategy for the deployment of the vaccine, or for carcase disposal.
It also said that there was not enough testing of systems, with last year’s simulation of an foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, Exercise Taurus, the first since 2005. “Not enough simulation and testing of systems means a lack of assurance about whether plans and preparations are fit for purpose,” it stated.
The report also stated that the Animal Health Laboratory’s (AHL) preparations for foot-and-mouth disease were “not yet fit for purpose” and warned that the AHL’s PC3 bio-containment laboratory was outdated and at risk of breakdown. “Because of its age, it is starting to show wear and tear, maintenance needs are growing, and the risk of a breakdown is increasing. If a breakdown happened during an foot-and-mouth disease response, it is likely the enhanced PC3 bio-containment laboratory would be shut down, rather than risk an escape of the virus. This would be a major barrier to dealing effectively with an outbreak,” it said.
The report was welcomed by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), which said it reinforced observations that had previously been identified by a joint-government and industry report into New Zealand’s state of readiness for FMD.
“These and other findings from Exercise Taurus (an foot-and-mouth disease incursion simulation) are the ongoing focus of a collaborative process between the affected livestock industries and MPI to make the improvements required in this area,” said Dr Scott Champion, B+LNZ CEO.
“Foot-and-mouth disease is the country’s biggest biosecurity threat. Gaps in preparedness cannot remain.”
New Zealand’s Labour leader David Shearer said the report was “damning” evidence of the National Government’s determination to cut biosecurity budgets.
“This government’s slash-and-burn approach to biosecurity has put our entire economy at risk, from agriculture to horticulture, forestry and tourism. National’s hands-off approach to biosecurity is plain reckless. It has cut funding, slashed front-line staff and failed to properly prepare for an incursion,” he said.
In 2002, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand estimated that an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would devastate the country’s economy, reducing gross domestic product (GDP) by NZ$8bn after one year and NZ$13bn after two years.