New fund for biosecurity?

May 21, 2018

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is considering a fund like EQC to cover biosecurity breaches.

He told Mr Dann he has asked Treasury and the Ministry of Primary Industries to investigate the possibility of creating a fund that could be funded partly by the government and partly by industry.

“We can’t just sit there and wait for these things to happen. We know they’re happening more regularly and I want us to get ahead of that,” he said.

“We are in a very reactive stance when they come in. We have this with Mycoplasma bovis, and we scramble around both as a government and the industry, trying to find the money to respond to them.”

“What I’d like to see is for us to get ahead of those. . .

A Border Clearance Levy was introduced in 2016:

The introduction of the levy allows the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the New Zealand Customs Service to manage resourcing of border clearance activities as passenger numbers go up or down.  This will mean the right resources are in place to keep New Zealand safe from harmful pests, people and dangerous substances and maintain current levels of service.

That’s supposed to stop biosecurity risks at the border, it doesn’t cover dealing with, and compensating for, anything which gets past the border.

The EQC levy and a Fire Service levy,  are imposed on all insurance policies. That does let people without insurance away without paying but the rest of us pay.

While the Canterbury earthquakes have raised issues with EQC, most of us pay the levies without complaint in the knowledge that any of us could be victims of natural disasters or fires.

Farmers, horticulturalists and orchardists, and native species are those most at risk from a direct biosecurity incursions which are very different from earthquakes and fires.

There’s no way to levy our flora and fauna. It would be easier to levy farmers and growers of fruit and vegetables.

The problems and costs of dealing with and compensating for M. bovis show the need for change.

Keith Woodford identifies some of the problems in the way it’s been and is being handled:

As I write this on 20 May 2018, New Zealand is at a crucial point in deciding how to manage Mycoplasma bovis. There are no good options. The worst option is for the Government to try and be the boss.

So, who should try to manage Mycoplasma bovis?

At the national level, the answer is ‘no-one’.  Farmers must make their own business decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.

Elsewhere in the world, governments do not try to manage Mycoplasma bovis. It is up to farmers to do this.

The role of our Government should be to continue monitoring at the national level using sampling techniques. But trying to identify all infected animals so as to eradicate the disease, and even trying to limit stock movements, this will be counter-productive.  Government has neither the resources nor the expertise. And the mess will just get bigger and bigger. . . 

Gypsy Day is in a couple fo weeks, thousands of cows need to be moved for winter feed or to new farms.

Some commentators have been suggesting that we should manage the disease in the short term but still work towards long term eradication. However, the epidemiology of this particular disease is such that this is unlikely to happen. No other country of the world – and Mycoplasma bovis is present in all the main dairy producing countries – is attempting to do this.  Unless some new technologies come forward, this disease is always going to be with us.

In the long term, it may be possible to produce a vaccine for Mycoplasma bovis. However, I do not know of anyone currently working on this.

The hard reality is that all farmers now need to manage their own situation, supported by advice by their veterinarians and other rural professionals with whom they work.  We know the risk factors. It is simply a case of making sure that these risks continue to be communicated, and then decisions must be made for each farm in the context of its specific situation. . .

The M. Bovis outbreak has been mishandled from the start when MPI worked on forward tracing – of cattle going from the farms where it was first identified, rather than backward tracing to find out where it had originated.

MPI now accepts that Mycoplasma bacteria were present in New Zealand at the start of 2016. But among my informal networks, there is no-one who is confident that this is time zero. The debates that we have, based on various pieces of evidence, include whether time zero was around 2014, or whether time zero was even earlier than that.

With hindsight, it seems that the battle between Mycoplasma bovis and MPI was always going to be a victory for Mycoplasma bovis. For it to be otherwise, MPI Biosecurity would have either had to stop its first entry to New Zealand, or else have identified the first incursions before they had spread.

Clearly there have been major deficiencies in NAIT (the national animal tracing system) but this is not the reason that Mycoplasma is currently out of control. Much more fundamental to the issue is that Mycoplasma had a head start, probably of several years.

There will also need to be hard questions asked about MPI itself – not the individuals but the system. Within my networks, which include people working directly on the Mycoplasma project, there is frustration that field-level understandings get lost as messages flow up the chain.

I would like to see MPI staffed at the highest levels by specialists rather than by managers drawn from totally different fields of expertise. From the website, I can see a ten-member senior leadership team with military experience, social development experience, communications experience and even a love of ballet. But apart from one forester and one agricultural economist, I cannot see any signs of people with experience of how things actually happen out in the field, nor an understanding of relevant sciences which determines how different diseases must be attacked differently. If the expertise is there, it is not evident.

I have significant doubts as to whether lack of funding is a key cause of the current situation. More likely, it is about organisational culture. It also needs to be recognised that generic management taught in MBA type programs may not be the ideal training for a Biosecurity Unit.

Anyone who has been affected by the disease and the way it’s been handled would second this.

Questions now have to be asked as to whether or not we have appropriate systems in place in case of a foot and mouth disease outbreak. I cannot answer that.

Foot and mouth disease would play out very differently than Mycoplasma bovis. If Mycoplasma bovis is a stealth bomber, then foot and mouth disease would be a nuclear event.

With foot and mouth disease, there would need to be immediate 100 percent accurate tracing of animal movements of the preceding days and possibly weeks, but not long term historical movements. There would need to be immediate and total lockdown on all animal movements across the country. Emergency vaccinations may need to be part of the toolbox.  All scenarios would need to have been thought through in advance.

With Mycoplasma bovis, it is evident those scenario analyses were not in place, so perhaps they are also not in place for foot and mouth disease.

Coming back to the immediate issues of Mycoplasma bovis, the key constraint going forward may well be for Government itself to recognise that it does not have the capacity to either eradicate or manage Mycoplasma bovis. The idea that ‘we are the Government and we are here to help you’ may well be an oxymoron.   Can Government understand this?

There might be a case for a fund partly paid for by farmers and growers.

But not as a knee jerk reaction to problems caused by the mishandling of M. bovis.

Unless those are addressed the fund would look more like another way to sneak in a new tax.


Too little light too much heat?

August 15, 2008

When the Government announced that incandescent light bulbs would be phased out as an energy-saving measure people complaiend the alternatives didn’t provide enough light. Now there are concerns the eco bulbs provide too much heat.

Energy Safety has warned the Fire Service  that compact fluorescent lamps may be hazardous with reports they are melting, exploding and blackening surrounding electrical equipment.

Fire Service national fire investigation manager Peter Wilding confirmed he put a message out to staff “to be aware of the issue and pay particular attention to these faults”.

There were reports that eco bulbs had burnt out and scorched fittings, causing smoke stains, and in a few cases they had caught fire.

I have eco-bulbs in my office but I can’t see to read by them so need a desk lamp as well which probably defeats the power saving purpose. I’ve also noticed that the radio crackles when I turn the lights on.

Saving power is an admirable objective but not at the cost of safety. Until we have proof the bulbs are safe  Keeping Stock  is right to ask if the decision to ban incandescent bulbs is an error of judgement.


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