Govt foot falls from mouth on biosecurity risk - RePress

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Thursday, November 5

Govt foot falls from mouth on biosecurity risk

The Government has finally acknowledged that there are palm kernel biosecurity risks, including from foot and mouth disease, following Green Party questioning and pressure in past months.

"I call again for an immediate halt to imports of palm kernel, at least until mounting biosecurity concerns about the product have been investigated and eliminated," said Green Party biosecurity spokesperson Kevin Hague.

The Rural News yesterday reported Federated Farmers' biosecurity spokesperson John Hartnell saying that the time between heat treatment and shipment 'provides a window for insect infestation and, worse still, contamination with potential foot and mouth disease bearing material such as soil or animal remains'.

The same article reported that Biosecurity NZ Deputy Director Barry O'Neill has acknowledged 'that there is a hole there' and that MAF Biosecurity is 'working with Australian biosecurity to strengthen the systems in that area'.

"The genuine concerns held by the Green Party and many farmers about the biosecurity risks to New Zealand agriculture from palm kernel have finally been recognised," said Mr Hague.

The Minister of Biosecurity earlier accused the Greens and farmers of 'scaremongering', and described biosecurity risks as 'negligible' because all shipments are heat-treated and fumigated.
"Questioning has revealed that there is a window of time between heat treatment - which happens as part of the palm oil extraction process - and shipment. In that window, there is a significant risk that the kernel can be recontaminated through contact with soil and livestock," said Mr Hague.

"The Minister was relying on heat treatment to eliminate micro-organism risk, but his Ministry now accepts my concerns, that there are risks of post-treatment soil contamination.

"Evidence I have seen shows that kernel is not always in secure containment between heat treatment and shipping - sometimes it is on bare earth and open to animals and insects - so the risk is very real. This is backed up by farmers reporting soil in their palm kernel."
Mr Hague's research and questioning in Parliament has uncovered that:
  • farmers have reported contamination of palm kernel shipments by soil and exotic weeds, and foreign objects like wood and metal;
  • foot and mouth disease, which is endemic in Malaysia, can be viable in soil and water for extended periods;
  • palm kernel shipments are not inspected or tested for moisture, or for micro-organisms, and fumigation is ineffective against micro-organisms such as foot and mouth disease;
  • some shipments of palm kernel have arrived in New Zealand without prior fumigation, refumigation is often required due to insect infestations, and inspection sampling rates are low - so it is likely exotic insects have been introduced; and
  • no specific biosecurity risk assessment for palm kernel has been conducted, with the most recent assessment of foot and mouth disease predating large kernel imports.
"I agree with Tim Knox, Director of MAF Biosecurity NZ Border Standards when he said earlier this year 'our border security is not what it should be'," said Mr Hague.
"It's clear that palm kernel poses a major, and unnecessary, risk to our economy and environment, and it's time for the Government to fix that.

"We need to review the lax import health standard and eliminate the risks. This requires storage before shipment to be sterile and independently monitored, and more rigorous inspection at the border.

"The costs of additional biosecurity should be built into the price of kernel, and we should consider a bond or compulsory insurance to protect the New Zealand public from the massive clean-up cost of biosecurity incursions.

"The least the Government can do is halt the import of palm kernel until the risk is eliminated. Our primary industries and environment are not to be gambled with."

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