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Big changes ahead for New Zealand's biosecurity system


Big changes are ahead for New Zealand's biosecurity system, with two major pieces of law to be overhauled.

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Two major pieces of law are set to be overhauled. Source: 1 NEWS

After a number of outbreaks in the sector, the Biosecurity Act and the law which oversees how livestock are traced are being tightened.

The National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme is New Zealand's system for identifying and tracing animals. It currently traces cattle and deer, through using specific tags and the NAIT database.

But the incursion of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis (M. Bovis) revealed a number of failures in the system.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says if NAIT had been working, "we could have been at least on top of this and know exactly how many animals or herds were potentially affected".

Southland farmer Ben Walling lost 1726 animals to the disease and told 1 NEWS "NAIT certainly would have helped us and a lot of farmers not be infected if it was done properly".

He puts the biggest failing down to “people not doing it correctly”. He also says there are issues with cattle losing tags due to “not being put in the ears properly” and farmers using another database.

"The biggest one we come across is farmers trying to use MINDA. And MINDA doesn't fit with NAIT and was never intended to fit with it," he says.

Mr O’Connor described the system as “clunky” and acknowledged the difficulties some people have with broadband problems and other system failures.

Some of the ways he wants to fix it include:

• Improving traceability by linking cattle to their birthplace, rather than the person in charge of the animals
• Allowing more groups to access identification and tracing data
• Tighter rules for handling untagged animals
• Increasing penalties up to $100,000

Federated Farmers Dairy vice president Wayne Langford is pleased the minister and his officials accept “that there's been some fault on both sides”.

“But at the moment this is what we've got, and this is what we need to work with to make it work,” he says.

It's not just farmers who'll be expected to step up. The transport industry supports the minister’s moves but doesn’t want to see truck drivers “overly burdened with a responsibility that lies with farmers”.

“The main point is that we don’t think that transport operators should be forced to become police officers with a big stick looking over the backs of farmers,” explains Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett.

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesperson says OSPRI has been sending warning letters to “farmers needing to lift their game”.

“In cases where farmers don’t, then we issue infringement notices. Between August 2018 and June 2019, 285 infringement notices were issued”.

The minister will introduce an amendment bill to Parliament to improve NAIT next week.