Biosecurity: what does it mean and why should we care?
As Tauranga celebrates its annual biosecurity week local residents can reasonably ask “what is biosecurity” and “why should I care about it?”.
We’ve heard recently about myrtle rust incursions, diseases impacting Bluff oysters on Stewart Island, and a cattle infection in Canterbury. All costing the nation, and taxpayers a lot money. Is it worth it go to such efforts to control eradications, or should we be like many other countries and not go so far?
Most New Zealanders appreciate our unique position in the world. Our animals and forests, and indeed, even most of our marine life, evolved on its own for the last 80 million years. Our productive agriculture and forestry systems depend on exotic plants, which, for the most part thrive in New Zealand free from their native pests and pathogens left behind in their homelands. As a result, both our natural systems and our primary production systems are particularly vulnerable to invasions. Our natural vegetation and very special birdlife has proven to be extremely susceptible to attack by possums, rats and stoats, and also in the case of kauri to tiny microscopic organisms known as phytophthora - the same group of organisms that has decimated native forests on the west coast of Australia and that also caused the massively destructive potato blight in Ireland in the 19th century.
New Zealand needs an effective biosecurity system to survive. Even more today than in the past as numbers of tourists arriving skyrocket, trade continues to accelerate, and high threat organisms move closer to our shores. Biosecurity is much more than just stopping bugs at the border and killing them if they do get through. It’s actually about protecting New Zealand values. Certainly, we want to prevent nasty things getting in, but biosecurity is also about managing those pests that have established and are causing serious damage, like possums, stoats, and Psa bacteria on kiwifruit.
Our biosecurity system is world class and only Australia’s comes close in providing an effective, but not foolproof, barrier to pests and pathogens that could have a huge debilitating effect on our economy and lifestyle. As well as protecting our primary industries, farming, horticulture, forestry and aquaculture from unwanted pests that want to gobble up our plants and infect our animals, it is also very much about protecting our export trade, which in the case of dairy and meat would be impacted immediately if foot and mouth were to be discovered in New Zealand. Horticultural and forestry exports could be similarly affected, simply by the detection of high-risk organisms in key primary production areas, such as the Bay of Plenty. A worst-case scenario could, for example, shut down log exports overnight should a serious notifiable pathogen be found in the region, and that would mean thousands of workers at the port and in the forest industry laid off for months while trade negotiations and research to solutions took place.
But biosecurity is also about protecting our lifestyle from pests such as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) that, in North America where it has established in the last 20 years, has a disgusting habit of invading homes just before winter and building up huge populations of stinky bugs that no one wants to share their houses with. Huge efforts also go into preventing potentially disease carrying mosquitoes from establishing in New Zealand, especially those that can carry malaria, dengue fever, Ross River virus or zika virus.
But we also need to pay close attention to what is happening in our oceans and freshwaters. These are under threat from dozens of invading species, some of which have established and have displaced natives, and others that are getting closer every year to gaining a foothold and causing immense damage to environments that kiwis love, but know relatively little about because they are for the most part invisible. Our marine and freshwater habitats are in serious danger, and much greater biosecurity effort is needed to protect them, something we can all help with.
This column is a contribution to Biosecurity Week 2017 by Bill Dyck from the New Zealand Forest Owners Association.
Biosecurity Week is part of the biosecurity excellence partnership between Port of Tauranga, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Kiwifruit Vine Health, NZ Avocado, Dairy NZ, Forestry Owners Association, NZ Customs and Bay of Plenty Regional Council. The award-winning partnership aims to build a port community committed to biosecurity excellence.