Part 1: Introduction

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions.

In this Part, we discuss:

Why biosecurity is important

Biosecurity helps prevent the establishment of pests or diseases that would have detrimental effects on our primary production industries, native flora and fauna, and human health. All New Zealanders benefit from a biosecurity system that functions effectively.

We carried out a performance audit that looked at how effectively the biosecurity system works in preparing for and responding to the arrival and spread in New Zealand of pests and diseases – biosecurity incursions.

The foreword to the 2003 biosecurity strategy Tiakina Aotearoa Protect New Zealand (the 2003 biosecurity strategy) says that "New Zealand is more dependent on biosecurity than any other developed country". It is fundamental to the economic health of the country.

New Zealand's biosecurity system is underpinned by the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (in relation to new organisms).

Biosecurity is complex and involves many more entities than just central government agencies. Interested parties are varied and diverse. The Ministry for Primary Industries (the Ministry)1 provides leadership, but all interested parties – including the public – need to take part and take responsibility, where necessary.

The first priority is to prevent invasive pests and diseases from entering the country. An attempt is made to do this first by working with other countries to ensure that the pest or disease does not leave the exporting country overseas. There are strict biosecurity procedures at New Zealand airports and ports to prevent incoming goods and passengers from inadvertently introducing pests and diseases. However, no border control is 100% effective and it is sensible to plan for the arrival of pests and diseases.

Responsibility for biosecurity

Since 2004, a number of mergers and restructures have affected biosecurity responsibilities. Figure 1 shows the mergers and restructures.

Figure 1
Timeline of mergers and restructures affecting biosecurity responsibilities 2004–2012

Date Action
July 2004 Biosecurity New Zealand is established as a business group in Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)
July 2007 New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) separates from MAF to become a public service department
July 2008 MAF Biosecurity Services and MAF Quarantine Services merge to become MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ)
July 2010 NZFSA merges back with MAF

MAFBNZ ceases to exist as a separate branch within MAF

MAFBNZ brand is retained
July 2011 MAF and Ministry of Fisheries merge to create a new ministry covering the primary sector
April 2012 The new ministry becomes Ministry for Primary Industries

MAFBNZ brand is retired

Note: Before 2004, biosecurity responsibility rested with several ministries, including MAF.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Ministry for Primary Industries and management of biosecurity

On 30 April 2012, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was created. This is a new organisation formed by merging the previous Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), and the Ministry of Fisheries.

Again, one public entity focuses on increasing export opportunities and improving productivity while protecting New Zealand from biological risks. In 2012/13, the Ministry intends to reduce duplication and costs to save almost $20 million.

In 2011/12, the Ministry spent $54.6 million in total managing biosecurity risks. Figure 2 shows the Ministry's relevant spending during the last five years on items within the scope of our audit. Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, annual spending (after adjusting for inflation) on:

  • laboratories decreased by about 13%;
  • surveillance and investigation increased by about 35%;
  • core response capability increased by about 13%; and
  • preparedness and pest management increased by about 5%.2

Figure 2
Ministry for Primary Industry's spending on biosecurity (within the scope of our audit), 2007/08 to 2011/12 (using 2011 Quarter 1 prices)

Appropriation for financial year ($million)
Cost area 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12
Laboratories 4.3 4.2 3.6 3.9 3.7
Surveillance and Investigation 8.0 8.8 8.8 10.4 10.8
Core response capability 5.3 5.2 5.0 6.6 6.0
Cost of responding to incursions 13.0 8.5 2.6 3.3 2.3
Preparedness and Pest Management / National Co-ordination 1.1 1.3 1.6 1.3 1.1
Long-term management of incursions 1.4 2.2 2.8 4.0 2.1
Systems and support 3.9 4.5 3.6 3.5 4.1
Management staff 3.1 6.8 8.9 10.8 2.1
Major projects 0.0 0.9 2.5 5.8 6.2
Totals 40.1 42.3 39.5 49.7 38.5

Notes: Spending figures have been rounded and may not add up exactly to the totals. We have not audited the spending figures.

For "Management staff" costs, the Ministry reports that, between 2007/08 and 2010/11, this budget category represented the cost of Level 4 managers. From 2011/12, there was a different cost allocation, which is the reason for the apparent reduction rather than major reductions in staff numbers. Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

The 2003 biosecurity strategy

The 2003 biosecurity strategy set out clear expectations of the biosecurity system and took a whole-system view of biosecurity. It also set a clear expectation that a single agency, the Ministry, was accountable for ensuring that biosecurity work met the strategy's intended outcomes.

Introducing the 2003 biosecurity strategy, the Biosecurity Council3 foresaw that it:

... will still be a useful benchmark ten years from now, providing evidence that biosecurity is evolving and delivering the outcomes expected.

Nearly ten years on from then, our work shows that some of these expectations have not been fulfilled. The original strategy scheduled an overall review in 2010 to assess long-term progress. This has not been done, which means that there has been no reliable overall assessment of whether the biosecurity strategy's expectations have been met.

Our audit

This year, the theme of our office's work programme is Our future needs – is the public sector ready? The focus is on how public entities prioritise work, develop necessary capabilities and skills, and use information to identify and address future needs.

In this audit, we looked at what MAF did until 30 April 2012 and what MPI has done since then. We also focused on the opportunities and challenges that MPI faces in maximising its capability and achieving lasting improvements in biosecurity.


AsureQuality is a state-owned enterprise. It was formed in 2007 from the merger of ASURE New Zealand Limited and AgriQuality Limited. These companies were formed in 1998 from MAF Quality Management, an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

We did not specifically review AsureQuality because it was outside the scope of our audit. However, AsureQuality is one of the Ministry's major contractors and is integral to responding to biosecurity incursions, so we have commented on AsureQuality's service when its effects are within the scope of our audit.

What we did not cover

New Zealand's biosecurity is more than border protection. The Ministry groups biosecurity work as:

  • Offshore – this includes the rest of the world, outside New Zealand's borders, where biosecurity risks emerge and information on intelligence and surveillance is gathered and exchanged.
  • Pathways and borders – the ways in which biosecurity-risk goods and organisms arrive and enter New Zealand, the final point at which people, goods, and craft are given approval to enter into or depart from New Zealand.
  • Within New Zealand – the management of risks and impacts of pests and diseases that have crossed the border and diseases that have already established in New Zealand.

We recognise that these three groups are linked. A failure offshore or at the border increases the risk of an incursion. However, we did not examine the offshore or border biosecurity arrangements, such as the adequacy of border controls. Our audit considered biosecurity work within New Zealand only, because this is where most preparedness and response work takes place.

Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response

The Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response (GIA) forms an important part of the Ministry's plans to improve biosecurity preparedness and response. Although we consider aspects of the GIA, we did not specifically review it because it will not formally come into effect until 1 July 2013. We provide further details of the GIA in Appendix 1.

How we did our audit

We interviewed 32 Ministry staff, covering risk assessment, surveillance, laboratory work, preparedness, statistical modelling, information systems, Māori issues, investigation, and responses to incursions.

We interviewed 54 people from outside the Ministry who were part of the responses in the examples we examined, including the Ministry of Health, Department of Conservation, local government, Crown research institutes (CRIs), AsureQuality, iwi, industry groups, and contractors. We also interviewed a representative of the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee. We analysed the results of our structured interviews with these response partners and then selected the issues most often mentioned. These are highlighted in Figures 10, 12-14, and 16-18. Although this analysis is not statistically valid, it provides insight into response partners' views of interacting with the Ministry.

We read and analysed many significant documents with information about the Ministry's preparatory and response work.

We visited the Ministry's head office in Wellington, the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) at Wallaceville in Upper Hutt, and the Plant Health and Environment Laboratory at Tamaki in Auckland to learn about what happens during a response. We observed Exercise Taurus 2012, a foot and mouth disease outbreak simulation that the Ministry held in March 2012.

Examining examples of responses to incursions

To help us assess the Ministry's performance and effectiveness over time, we reviewed the responses to six incursions in more detail. We looked at examples of how the Ministry has actually responded to pests and diseases.

The Ministry has between 30 and 40 responses a year, so six is a reasonable sample. Figure 3 describes these six incursions in more detail.

We chose examples that included:

  • primary risks to each of the four values (economic, environmental, human health, and socio-cultural) (see paragraph 4.37 and Figure 15);
  • different response environments and types of organisms;
  • a selection over time, to observe whether there were improvements in biosecurity practice;
  • other agencies and/or response partners taking part;
  • significant costs, public profile, or noteworthiness; and
  • different stages of response.

Figure 3
Six examples of responses to incursions

Incursion Detail
Gum leaf skeletoniser Uraba lugens is an Australian moth that damages eucalyptus. The caterpillars have poisonous stinging spines. Found in 2001 in Auckland, where it is now widespread. Could potentially spread through much of the country. The response is notable for using a parasitic wasp, Cotesia urabae, to target and control the gum leaf skeletoniser caterpillar.
Didymo Didymosphenia geminata (also known as rock snot or didymo) is a freshwater alga. Didymo sticks to stream, river, and lake beds. It forms a thick brown layer that smothers rocks, submerged plants, and other materials. The response is notable for using human behaviour change as a response tool, provided through social marketing campaigns.
Southern saltmarsh mosquito Ochlerotatus camptorhyncus can carry the debilitating human illness Ross River virus. First detected in 1998 and declared eradicated from New Zealand in July 2010. The response is notable because it is the only recorded eradication of this pest worldwide.
Kauri dieback Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA), commonly known as kauri dieback, is a microscopic fungus-like organism that can kill kauri trees. Reported in 2008, PTA is believed to be a soil-borne species spread in a variety of ways, including by humans and animals. The response is notable because it is the first example of a joint biosecurity response between the Ministry, other agencies, and partners. Also the first example of a joint response with iwi.
Psa Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae (Psa) is a bacterial canker of kiwifruit. Psa has devastated kiwifruit production in the Bay of Plenty and has spread to other areas. First discovered in 2010. The response is notable because it is the biggest biosecurity response for some years and an example of a joint response with industry.
Juvenile oyster mortality Ostreid herpes virus-1 kills young oysters. It is not a risk to human health, food safety, or international trade. In late 2010, upper North Island marine farms lost many juvenile oysters. The response is notable because the incursion is due to a combination of factors in the marine environment.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

During the audit, we also considered two other responses in less detail:

  • Queensland fruit fly – Bactrocera tryoni, is among the most devastating of more than 4500 members of the Tephritidae family. Queensland fruit fly is known to infest more than 100 species of fruit, including commercial crops such as avocado, citrus, and grape. It is of national significance. In May 2012, a single male Queensland fruit fly was found in Auckland. Intensive checks by the Ministry found no further sign of Queensland fruit fly in New Zealand. The Ministry has confirmed that New Zealand is free of this pest, but that it remains a significant risk.
  • Great white cabbage butterfly – Pieris brassicae, a pest of brassica crops, was found in Nelson in 2010. This exotic pest looks like the common small white butterfly. Following completion of additional cost-benefit analysis that included environmental risks, the Department of Conservation has taken over managing and funding the operational arm of this response. The Ministry continues to manage some research work.

Structure of our report

Aspects of biosecurity.

This report on our performance audit covers the following aspects of biosecurity within New Zealand:

  • surveillance – activities that actively or passively try to detect the arrival of new pests and diseases (Part 2);
  • preparedness and capability – activities that plan and prepare for dealing with the arrival of pests and diseases, developing and maintaining capability to deal with them, and testing that capability to ensure that it works well (Part 3);
  • response – the process from receiving notification of a suspect organism, through investigating it and, if necessary, initiating a response to it (Part 4); and
  • transition from, and close down of, response – when response objectives have been met, the activities required to ensure a smooth close down of the Ministry's operations and, where appropriate, the seamless handover to response partners (Parts 5 and 6).

1: The biosecurity responsibilities of the Ministry for Primary Industries were held by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry until 29 April 2012. "the Ministry" as used in this report may refer to either or both of these, depending on the context.

2: This increase was less than $100,000 and so is too small to appear in Figure 2.

3: In 1997, the Biosecurity Council was established by the then Minister for Biosecurity to advise on biosecurity. The Council comprised chief executives of relevant government departments, and industry and other stakeholder representatives. In 2005, the Council was superseded by the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee.

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