MPI chief welcomes findings from passenger and mail biosecurity review

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has welcomed the findings of an independent review of its biosecurity passenger and mail controls at the border, saying they support its current direction.

The review was commissioned by MPI director-general Ray Smith after fruit fly was detected in Auckland earlier this year. It was conducted by leading Australian biosecurity expert Rob Delane.

Mr Delane has since been appointed to the role of inspector-general of biosecurity in Australia.

The report says the reviewer, overall

 “… is in no doubt that New Zealand’s border biosecurity services in the targeted areas are world-class, and well-protect New Zealand.”

The report nevertheless argues that ongoing tactical and strategic improvement is essential because of the very nature of border biosecurity and the pressures on it.  These include rapid changes in travel and trade, the inability of operators of underpinning infrastructure to be sufficiently agile to adjust to changes, new technology developments, and stakeholder awareness and expectations.

The reviewer says it is  important to regard the border (and pre-border) biosecurity functions as a whole, and as part of the broader New Zealand biosecurity system.

“While it may be expedient for some stakeholders to focus attention on a narrow (perhaps tiny) part of the suite of border biosecurity measures, the ‘resourceto-risk’ approach that it is essential for MPI to apply, together with the ongoing tactical and strategic agility needed in order to respond to evolving trade and travel patterns, offshore biosecurity threats, technology changes, and New Zealand industry and community changes means that there will often be small cohorts of unsatisfied stakeholders.

“The reviewer wishes to highlight the openness, focus on excellence and commitment all management and staff of the Ministry for Primaries have demonstrated during the Review. The people of New Zealand should be proud and supportive of their biosecurity services personnel, and play their own part in protecting their nation’s biosecurity status, consistent with the Tiaki Promise.”

Mr Smith said it was pleasing the review found the border protection services in the mail and passenger pathways are world-class and they protect New Zealand well.

“The review also notes the significant challenges our border is under and that ongoing tactical and strategic improvement is essential. To that end, a number of recommendations are made that I will ask Biosecurity New Zealand to carefully consider.”

A key  finding of the review was the need to adopt new technology to ensure MPI’s border systems kept up with rapid changes in travel and trade.

“The findings support our work to develop new baggage scanning technology, recommending that we move quickly to use real-time tomography to scan all baggage at Auckland Airport,” Mr Smith said.

“We are very well advanced in developing a prototype scanner that can automatically detect goods that pose biosecurity risk. Earlier this month, officers detected an egg in a suitcase shortly after the installation of the first version of software specially designed for biosecurity.

“The review also suggests there are limitations with current mail and airport facilities in Auckland that may impede biosecurity. We are currently in discussion with the property owners to upgrade these facilities.

“Interestingly, the review does not see a case for additional detector dogs, suggesting that other changes would lead to more effective use of our existing dog resources.”

The review recommends finding ways to fast-track low-risk passengers through airport processes.

“We are keen to talk further about this with airlines and airports, but our bottom line will always be that biosecurity cannot be compromised,” Mr Smith said.

“Overall, the recommendations reinforce a lot of things that are already on our radar. We will look at how they can fit into our existing work programme.”

The recommendations include:

  • fast deployment of new scanning technologies such as real-time tomography for suitcases and computed tomography for rapid scanning of hand baggagemore development of public awareness measures, such as smartphone-enabled digital tools for arriving travellers
  • separating arriving passengers carrying commercial quantities of food from other international travellers
  • extending a scheme involving the pre-clearance of approved food packages carried by passengers from Tonga and imposing stiff penalties for any breaches
  • charging cruise ship operators that are not covered by the existing accreditation scheme for all costs relating to biosecurity services provided by MPI
  • improved access to intelligence to aid risk assessment decisions regarding express freight
  • working with New Zealand Post to address infrastructure issues at the International Mail Centre in Auckland.
  • introducing new scanning technology at the mail centre.

Download the full report [PDF, 508 KB]

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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