MPI’s director-general, Ray Smith, wants his staff to engage more with the rural sector.
The concern comes after rising levels of African Swine Fever (ASF) and new samples of Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) were detected at the Australian border.
However, further testing for deadly diseases like foot and mouth of confiscated pork is not necessary, says the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Following last month’s discovery of ASF in illegally imported pork products, Australian authorities have undertaken a further round of testing of surrendered and seized pork products from incoming passengers and mail.
In the latest test of samples, collected in late January and early February, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) confirmed ASF was present in 15% of samples – a significant jump from the 5% of products that tested ASF-positive in December.
Of potentially wider concern for New Zealand’s whole livestock industry, the DAWR also confirmed FMD was present in a small number of the samples, says NZ Pork.
Dr Chris Rodwell, MPI director, animal health and welfare, says MPI takes the threat from ASF and FMD very serious.
“Protecting New Zealand from unwanted pests and diseases is our number one priority, and we are monitoring the situation in Australia,” he says.
“MPI is aware of the findings from Australia, and we accept that some illegal personal consignments may contain ASF or FMD viruses. But as these products are being confiscated and destroyed we don’t consider it necessary to conduct further tests. We believe there are no biosecurity gains in further testing of confiscated pork products as they are destroyed.”
Private consignments of pork and pork products are currently banned in New Zealand except from three countries that are free from ASF and FMD: Australia, Finland, Sweden, he says.
Rodwell says any traveller arriving in New Zealand with pork or pork products from other countries will have these items confiscated and destroyed, and penalties will apply for international travellers with undeclared pork products.
“We are monitoring the situation and will change import rules for pork products as needed.
“It is important to note, commercial pork can only be imported into New Zealand if it meets our strict import conditions. This requires measures to be taken to ensure it is free from ASF and FMD,” he told Rural News.
But NZ Pork chairman Eric Roy says the latest discovery really raises the stakes for the wider primary sector.
“This is a real wake up call for the industry and needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness by our own border agencies,” says Roy. “The discovery of FMD in the latest samples of products found in Australia should be of particular concern for anyone in the livestock sector.”
Roy says NZ Pork is exploring the option of a meeting of industry leaders to review the current levels of risk.
“At the same time, we are repeating our calls for the Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Biosecurity Damien O’Connor to provide reassurance that we are taking all possible action – including our own testing of samples – at the border,” says Roy.
“Given that the level of ASF detected in intercepted products has grown from five to 15% in the space of a month, it’s an extremely sobering indication of how much that risk is increasing.”
Pig of a disease
Despite considerable effort to stop the disease, ASF is continuing to spread through Europe and has become widespread in China, says NZ Pork.
“The deadly pig disease, which has no effective treatment or vaccine, would be devastating to the welfare of the animals and the livelihoods of farmers in the local industry. New Zealand’s commercial pig farming industry currently has one of the highest health statuses in the world. ASF is not harmful to humans.”
Roy says the major threat to the local industry is that infected meat gets into the lifestyle or para-commercial pig population through the feeding of uncooked food scraps, a practice that is banned but does still occur when hobby farmers are unaware of the risks. New Zealand’s feral pig population could also come into contact with food waste.
Almost 60% of pork consumed in New Zealand is imported from over 25 countries around the world, including China, Poland and Belgium, which are identified as having ASF, as well as Denmark and Spain.