Part 2: What This Report Is About

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry: Management of Biosecurity Risks.

Purpose of Our Audit

The purpose of our audit was primarily to examine, and provide information to Parliament and the public on, how MAF manages biosecurity risks.

The authority for this audit is section 16(1)(a) of the Public Audit Act 2001 that enables the Auditor-General to examine the extent to which a public entity is carrying out its activities effectively and efficiently. Under section 16(2) an audit may relate to one or more public entities.

Why We Looked at Biosecurity Risk Management

With biosecurity, zero risk is not possible. Even in the absence of trade or travel, harmful pests and diseases can reach New Zealand by natural pathways. In addition to the natural and accidental ways in which pests and diseases enter the country, there is a risk of unwanted organisms being introduced deliberately and illegally – as happened when rabbit calicivirus disease was introduced into the South Island in 1997.

The management of risk is therefore critical to the way that MAF and other agencies protect the primary production sector, indigenous flora and fauna, and public health. Our audit concentrated on the risk management dimension of biosecurity activity across the four main departments.

The management of biosecurity risk requires many individuals with a wide range of skills and experience from a large number of organisations to work together, on highly technical issues, and often with limited time. Effective biosecurity risk management requires:

  • appropriate and transparent arrangements for setting funding priorities for biosecurity risk management activities;
  • clear allocation of roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities between the organisations involved;
  • effective co-ordination of the complex and often interlinked activities; and
  • a Biosecurity Programme that strikes an effective balance between:
    • pre-border security that maximises the chance of eliminating biosecurity threats before they reach the border;
    • border security to stop a threat if it does reach the border;
    • surveillance that detects as quickly as possible pests and diseases that cross the border;
    • generic incursion response capability that maximises the chance of responding to a pest or disease appropriately, within available (and prioritised) resources;
    • control and containment of specific pests and diseases, including endemic pest management;
    • education and enforcement that make people and industries aware of potential biosecurity threats and (therefore) more able and willing to comply with biosecurity requirements; and
    • research that is targeted at the areas of greatest likely benefit to the Biosecurity Programme as a whole.

What We Did

Our audit addressed the biosecurity risk management requirements highlighted in paragraph 2.5 through an examination of organisation structures, policies, and procedures. We also carried out detailed reviews of seven case studies selected to enable us to assess how the policies and procedures of the Biosecurity Programme have been applied in specific circumstances.

We looked at terrestrial biosecurity and the functions of MAF. But because biosecurity requires the involvement of a range of agencies, we also undertook some limited examination of MoH biosecurity arrangements and held discussions with DOC.

We reviewed MAF and MoH documents – including policies, standards, minutes of meetings, and operational plans.

We interviewed staff from three of the four main departments and from other organisations involved in terrestrial biosecurity (see Appendix 3 on pages 122-124).

Biosecurity has an important international context. We therefore decided to extend our field work to looking at aspects of the operations of the:

  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australia – including Biosecurity Australia, and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service;
  • Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries – including the Fire Ant Control Centre, Brisbane; and
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Case Studies

We selected seven topics for case studies, which we examined in detail. The results of our examinations are contained in a companion volume to this report. We describe briefly each of the seven case studies below.

Importation of Table Grapes from California

We selected the importation of table grapes from California to enable us to examine MAF’s pest risk analysis process. It also gave us the opportunity to examine the tension that exists between the demands of trade and need for effective biosecurity measures.

Response to the Incursion of the Southern Saltmarsh Mosquito

The southern saltmarsh mosquito is a carrier of Ross River virus. Because of the threat to public health, MoH has been responsible for managing the response to this pest. This incursion therefore gave us the opportunity to:

  • establish whether there are issues that relate to having more than one agency with biosecurity responsibilities; and
  • review how another agency managed a pest incursion compared to MAF’s approach.
Response to the Incursion of the Painted Apple Moth

The painted apple moth has the potential to defoliate New Zealand’s native and exotic forests. Criticism of MAF’s response to the incursion of the moth led the Group Director, MAF Biosecurity to commission an independent review of the response. We examined the circumstances that led to the need for this review and MAF’s reaction to the review’s findings.

Response to the Incursion of the Varroa Bee Mite

The incursion of the varroa bee mite raised questions about the effectiveness of the surveillance programme. The decision not to attempt to eradicate the varroa bee mite was controversial, so we examined the process by which the decision was reached – in order to identify how effectively MAF consulted with the organisations most affected by the decision.

Response to the Incursion of the Red Imported Fire Ant

The red imported fire ant was detected at Auckland International Airport in February 2001, at which time the proposal for this audit was being prepared. This incursion gave us the opportunity to examine MAF’s response to the pest while it was under way.

Management of Risks Associated with Sea Containers

For some pathways – such as mail items and passengers and their baggage – MAF is able to manage biosecurity risks by undertaking inspections of almost everything entering the country by the pathway. This level of inspection is not achievable for sea containers. Their very size and the number that enter the country each year (currently over 400,000 – see the fourth graph in Figure 3 on page 17) mean that MAF can inspect only a limited number of containers (approximately 96,000). We included this topic to examine how MAF selects the containers to be inspected and how they are inspected.

Preparedness for an Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease

As described in paragraphs 1.19-1.21 on page 14, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would have a substantial impact on New Zealand’s economy. We examined MAF’s preparedness for responding to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in New Zealand.

Expert Advice

We obtained advice from Dr Bruce Simpson, director of an independent biosecurity consultancy. Dr Simpson has considerable experience of biosecurity issues. He was a member of the steering committee for our audit and provided us with expertise and guidance throughout its conduct.

We also held a number of meetings with representatives of the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who provided us with valuable advice and useful background material. We also received advice from Roger Morris, Professor of Animal Health and Director of the Massey University EpiCentre.

Matters We Did Not Look At

Officers of MAF Quarantine Service carry out their duties to ensure that standards issued by MAF Biosecurity are met. Our audit was not an examination of the effectiveness of MAF Quarantine Service.

We did not look at marine biosecurity, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Fisheries.

In looking at the Biosecurity Programme, we concentrated on the risks posed by imported pests and diseases rather than the risks posed by endemic pests and diseases. Therefore, we did not examine the important role of regional councils in biosecurity. We comment briefly on measures to control and contain endemic pests and diseases, but only in the context of how these measures relate to the wider Biosecurity Programme.

We have not reviewed biosecurity-related legislation as part of this audit, as the Biosecurity Strategy is expected to address the need for any legislative review. However, we have commented on any wider issues, including any legislative issues, which came to our attention in the course of our examination.

How We Have Reported Our Findings

Biosecurity is a large and complex topic. Many of its aspects are inter-related. We therefore decided to take a comprehensive approach, and examined biosecurity at two levels:

  • a broad examination of the organisational structures and arrangements for managing biosecurity risks; and
  • a more detailed examination of a number of case studies to identify how specific risks have been managed.

The results of the broad examination are reported in this volume. The results of the detailed examination of the seven case studies are reported in a companion volume (the “Case Studies”).

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