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Foot-and-mouth concerns over illegal meat

Friday 1 Mar 2013 8:53 a.m.

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A report by the Auditor-General has warned of a potential catastrophe for the farming industry because the country isn't prepared to cope in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Opposition parties says New Zealand is at risk of a major biosecurity breach, and the Government has been trying to address the issue on the cheap.

Yesterday Labour leader David Shearer said an outbreak would cost "$8 billion in the first year and $13 billion in the second".

"An outbreak of foot and mouth would be disastrous for our economy."

Federated Farmers biosecurity spokesman and national vice-president Dr William Rolleston agrees, telling Firstline this morning that foot-and-mouth poses a grave threat to our agricultural industry.

"Foot and mouth is a viral disease which is highly infectious and highly contagious, so if we get it, it spreads from one animal to another – not only that, but it spreads across a number of different animals, cattle, sheep, pigs and other cloven-hoofed animals.

"The big issue is that it's a disease that countries don't want, and because it's so easily spread if you get it, your trade is in great trouble."

The Ministry of Primary Industries has been tasked with cutting its biosecurity spending by $20 million. There are concerns this could leave New Zealand without enough resources to handle an outbreak.

" You could imagine if we had a case of foot-and-mouth – and we all saw what happened in the UK when they had foot-and-mouth – the resources that are needed are quite substantial, and we need to plan very carefully and very thoroughly, so that we can actually not only cope with a situation like that, but also run the day-to-day border control as well."

New Zealand already limits trade with countries that have foot-and-mouth, but Dr Rolleston says illegal imports are a concern.

"If you look at what happened in the UK, I understand it came in through food which came from the airports," he says.

"There are meat products coming into New Zealand, either legally or illegally, which may carry foot-and-mouth, so they need to be checked for. And also there are specific countries which have foot-and-mouth which we don't want those sorts of products from… but there's always the issue of illegal imports."

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