By Tracy Neal
Tougher laws governing the movement of animals and harsher penalties for non-compliance are on the table under an overhaul of two key pieces of legislation.
The minister for biosecurity has today unveiled plans to upgrade the National Animal Identification and Tracing Act – or NAIT.
It was to be done in conjunction with a planned two-stage overhaul of the Biosecurity Act.
Damien O’Connor said the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in New Zealand cattle was the single biggest biosecurity event the country has faced.
The bacterium caused a range of serious conditions in cattle, and remains active on 27 properties.
Mr O’Connor said the outbreak and the response highlighted flaws in the NAIT scheme which linked people, property and livestock.
“We need to learn from the bovis experience and have better pieces of legislation as a result of it.
“I have been working with Biosecurity New Zealand and NAIT Limited, which manages the NAIT scheme, to fix it and make sure it is fit for the future.
“Earlier this year I announced a package of suggested changes to NAIT and Cabinet has now agreed to them.
Mr O’Connor told a gathering today at a farm near Nelson that the 26 year-old Biosecurity Act was out of date, and unable to cope with an increase in large biosecurity responses in recent years, including M bovis, Myrtle Rust, Queensland Fruit Fly and Bonamia – a parasite that affected flat oysters.
He said the revised Act also aimed to address concerns around greater threats to our primary industries from exotic insects and pests as the climate warmed.
Tourism, imports and even the rise of online shopping have all increased the country’s biosecurity risk, he said.
“Today I have released the terms of reference that define the objectives and structure of the Biosecurity Act’s overhaul. The work will be led by Biosecurity New Zealand, which has started working with Māori, industry, and others to upgrade the Act.
“We will look at every aspect of the Act including compensation and funding.”
He will next week introduce an amendment bill to Parliament to improve NAIT.
“The changes we’re making will take New Zealand a step closer to having the animal tracing scheme we need to keep our primary sectors and economy safe.”
The farming sector has welcomed the news.
Tapawera farmer Roy Bensemann said it will give the legislation the teeth it needs
He knows the consequences of slack rules, having been through the bovine tuberculosis outbreak.
“It’s been one of those things we’ve had to deal with – not having enough teeth in the legislation to deal with people who’ve ignored what the majority of farmers have been doing.”
Mr O’Connor said the two-tranche approach to upgrading what he termed outdated and clunky legislation, will mean tougher laws around the movement of animals from farm to farm.
“And they range from ensuring that numbers are attributed to properties, making sure people don’t transport stock when they’re not supposed to and to make sure the penalties match that of equivalent legislation.”
He said penalties would go from a maximum $10,000 to $100,000.
“Because blatant abuse of the Nait Act contributes to the spread of disease in New Zealand, and the ability to trace that, and as we’ve found with M.bovis the costs are huge,” Mr O’Connor said.
Farmers with cattle affected by disease have so far been paid more than $50 million in compensation, with the total value of claims assessed at just over $61 million.
The government announced last year it would cull about 152,000 cattle in an effort to eradicate the disease, and almost 87,000 have been slaughtered so far.
Mr O’Connor said rules around compensation, and compensation liability would also be “tweaked” to factor in the future.
“At the moment we have a government/industry agreement, with industry bodies contributing, but long term we’ve got to make sure the funding tools available are suitable for the kinds of incursions that we might have, and that industry can be part of the whole process.”
He said it was possible enforcement resources would be bolstered, but he hoped that would not be needed.
Dave Harrison of New Zealand Beef and Lamb, who was at today’s announcement, said it was a good day for the industry.
“We’ve had a long and difficult process with mycoplasma bovis, which has shown up some of the issues we have with the current legislation. So, today is the start of being able to implement some of the lessons learned from that response.”
An independent director with Dairy NZ, Jo Coughlan, said having the right tools in the kit was critical.
Wakefield sheep and beef farmer Donald Ladley said the overhaul was a step in the right direction.
He was also the chair of the Nelson-Marlborough branch of Ospri – the partnership organisation that manages Nait and TBfree, and said it was up to each farmer to comply, and get compliant
Mr Ladley said some of what happened might be attributed to farmers not keeping pace with technology.
“If you can’t get compliance, then get help. The call centres are very helpful, as are people in Nait and Ospri who are all very approachable.”
Dates for formal consultation on the Biosecurity Act will be announced later in the year and the public will have another opportunity to give feedback on the changes to the NAIT Act when the bill is in Select Committee.