Part 1: Introduction

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions - follow-up report.

In this Part, we discuss:

Why we did this follow-up audit

All New Zealanders benefit from a biosecurity system that works effectively. An effective biosecurity system prevents pest plants, animals, or diseases that would damage our primary production industries, native forests, and human health from becoming established. The Ministry for Primary Industries (the Ministry) is the lead agency in the biosecurity system.

Our February 2013 report Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions (our 2013 report) focused on what the Ministry does to prepare for biosecurity incursions and how it responds when an incursion takes place.

Our 2013 report identified the need to significantly improve how the Ministry prepares for and responds to biosecurity incursions. We made seven high-level recommendations across three themes:

  • being better prepared;
  • responding better; and
  • ensuring improvement.

These recommendations focused on how the Ministry prepares for potential biosecurity incursions, particularly high-risk incursions such as foot and mouth disease.

In 2015, we carried out a follow-up audit to review what progress the Ministry has made to address the recommendations in our 2013 report.

How we carried out our follow-up audit

We expected the Ministry to improve in all aspects that we identified in our 2013 report. We expected the improvements to better prepare the country for biosecurity incursions, particularly foot and mouth disease.

In our follow-up work, we:

  • analysed documents about the Ministry's readiness and response work;
  • interviewed staff from the Ministry, AsureQuality Limited (AsureQuality),1 and SPS Biosecurity Limited;2
  • spoke to a representative from the Biosecurity Ministerial Advisory Committee; and
  • carried out two case studies of recent responses to see how the Ministry is managing responses in light of the improvements it has made.

Case studies

We chose two markedly different biosecurity incursions to assess the Ministry's performance with different types of responses.

We chose examples that involved:

  • primary risks to the economy, the environment, human health, and socio-cultural values;
  • different response environments and types of organisms;
  • other agencies and response partners taking part;
  • significant costs, public profile, or noteworthiness; and
  • different stages of response.

For the case studies, we interviewed response staff and analysed response documents.

Queensland fruit fly incursion 2015

We chose the 2015 fruit fly incursion in Auckland because:

  • it could significantly affect the economy;
  • of its public profile; and
  • other response partners took part.

In February 2015, a Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) was discovered in a trap in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn. Fruit fly traps are part of the Ministry's surveillance regime for fruit fly species.

The Queensland fruit fly is a notifiable and unwanted organism that could, if established, become a serious horticultural pest in New Zealand. When the fruit fly find was confirmed, the Ministry acted immediately. The response included Government Industry Agreement partners3 and Auckland Council.

After surveillance and other work, the Ministry established that this incursion was an isolated breeding population of Queensland fruit flies. The Ministry, with the help of AsureQuality and the National Biosecurity Capability Network, moved to contain and eradicate the fruit fly through a range of activities in keeping with the Ministry's fruit fly eradication plan. These activities included treating infested properties, increased trapping, movement controls on host fruits and vegetables, fruit collection and slicing, and baiting.

By October 2015, it appeared that the incursion had been successfully dealt with. However, eradication cannot be confirmed until late 2015.

Brown dog tick incursion 2015

We chose the brown dog tick response because of the potential risk to human health, the size of the response (which was much smaller than the response to the 2015 fruit fly incursion), and the interagency collaboration involved.

In January 2015, a dog owner in Canterbury discovered what he thought were ticks on his two pet dogs and took them to his veterinarian. Ticks are not common in Canterbury, and the veterinarian rang the Ministry to report the unusual finding.

Experts at the Ministry's Plant Health and Environment Laboratory identified all the ticks as adult brown dog ticks. This species of tick is a notifiable and unwanted organism in New Zealand because it can carry and transmit a number of serious exotic diseases that can affect animals and people. None of these diseases are known to be in New Zealand.

Because the two dogs had been born and lived their whole lives in New Zealand, it was unclear how they could have been bitten by this exotic species of tick. The finding could indicate that an established breeding population of brown dog ticks was present in the country.

In response, the Ministry launched an investigation to work out where the ticks had come from, how they got in, and how far (if at all) they had spread. During the investigation, the Ministry contacted more than 600 dog owners by telephone or mail. No further brown dog ticks were found, which indicated that the ticks had been in only one house, possibly in the luggage of a visitor from overseas.

Immature ticks can be just one millimetre long. To ensure that all ticks in the area were eradicated, topical tick treatments were given to the two affected dogs and to 200 dogs who were identified as potentially having contact with these two dogs in the weeks before the ticks were discovered.

The house where the two dogs lived and two properties they had visited in December 2014 were treated to kill any ticks that might be in those buildings. No further brown dog ticks have been reported in Canterbury.

The Ministry is assessing the costs and benefits of different risk reduction measures and response options for brown dog tick.

The structure of this report

In Part 2, we discuss the progress the Ministry has made with our recommendations on being better prepared. This includes what the Ministry has done to better prepare for foot and mouth disease.

In Part 3, we discuss the progress the Ministry has made with our recommendations about contracting with response partners.

In Part 4, we describe the Ministry's efforts to improve its performance measures and public reporting.

1: AsureQuality was set up in 2007. It is the Ministry's main biosecurity response partner and was described to us as the "operational arm" of the Ministry's biosecurity response services.

2: SPS Biosecurity Limited is a surveillance company that has a contract with the Ministry.

3: The Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response is intended to allow primary industries and the Government to work together to make decisions about, and share the costs of, biosecurity preparedness and response work. It came into effect in July 2013.