OPINION: There’s some agitation out there at the moment about farming being under threat from forestry. Much of what’s circulating is based on misinformation so it’s time to lay out the facts.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the Biosecurity Act, now 26 years old, was developed for a different world. Threats to biosecurity in New Zealand then were not appreciated as they are now.
“We have a changing climate internationally which changes the profile of pests that could affect NZ agriculture,” he says.
“A quantum leap in trade and tourism sees more goods and parcels coming into the country. We need a law flexible enough to deal with changing and emerging threats as they occur.”
Changes will be made in areas of obligation, such as airlines and airport authorities which will need to better support biosecurity, O’Connor says. The Government wants to ensure everyone takes reasonable care and that when failure occurs those who contribute to the risk take responsibility.
“That is one of the issues to be looked at carefully by officials developing the changes and by the parliamentary select committee when the law is drafted.”
O’Connor says while there will be penalties for lawbreakers, he doesn’t believe penalties necessarily drive behaviour change.
“We have had growing awareness about the importance of biosecurity in the last few years and we have to build on that and support people to minimise the risk.”
Biosecurity is complex given some people’s lack of English and poor understanding of the importance of biosecurity to NZ, O’Connor says. But cases of blatant abuse of biosecurity laws are few.
Data ownership concerns
Farmers are welcoming proposed changes to biosecurity regulations but are less keen on proposed Government ownership of NAIT data.
They say this is data private to farmers and that it was never included in the initial NAIT review.
“We can see the public interest in a robust traceability system given its crucial role in managing responses that the public contribute to,” says Dave Harrison, Beef + Lamb NZ.
“While most of the proposed changes are focused on improving the effectiveness of NAIT, the proposal for the Crown to take ownership of NAIT data is something that was not included in the initial NAIT review.”
Harrison says any changes to the ownership and use of farmer data in NAIT will need careful study. BLNZ wants the Government to work with farmers to ensure the issues are addressed by the parliamentary select committee.
DairyNZ also supports moves to strengthen biosecurity but is also not keen on the Government owning farmer data.
“Ownership of farmer data is something we want to be involved in, so farmers concerns are fully addressed,” chief executive Tim Mackle says.
DNZ will work with the Government and its partners and wants farmers to have a say on the Biosecurity Act through the consultations.
No more excuses acceptable
NAIT needs to be more robust in tracking every part of the livestock system, O’Connor says.
This would run from animal tagging through to input into the system, including verification by NAIT and feedback to farmers.
We are demanding farmers fully implement the NAIT system, he says.
“Faults have been identified in the legislation, the system and areas of non-compliance. So we have the responsibility to make changes in the law and the system to make it easier for farmers if we are expecting them to fully implement traceability that works,” he says.
Commenting on complaints that the NAIT system is hard to use in some locations where broadband is poor, O’Connor acknowledges some farmers’ difficulties. So the system must be designed so as not to require farmers to spend long sessions on the internet. They need to be able to download chunks of data, and better interface with LIC’s Minda database is needed.
“NAIT is basically a sound system, but it’s never been fully tested because of some [farmers’] non-compliance. Many farmers who use NAIT say it works well, but it needs integrating well with other systems.
“These are technical aspects which have to be enabled through sound legislation. Some of the changes to be made will be based on advice we are getting from experts.”
O’Connor says Mycoplasma bovis has raised awareness of NAIT compliance and the need to tag all animals. There needs to be a tightening on exemptions for not tagging animals. Some loopholes in this area have been abused.
“A lot of farmers want those farmers who are not adhering to the law penalised and punished because the system is only as good as it weakest link.”
Changes to the Act will be staged. Matters of response, GIAs on farm biosecurity practices and compensation will be dealt with immediately, resulting in a bill before Parliament in one year. Other aspects will be seen to a year later.
There will be wide consultation and proposed changes will go before a parliamentary select committee.