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Mycoplasma bovis, foot and mouth, National Party, and other nasty germs

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Intro

The Mycoplasma bovis crisis confronting New Zealand is a story that will be dissected and commented on for decades to come.

This was not simply a matter of a bacteria infecting cattle. This was a  story on many levels; of flouted rules; a significant inadequacy of the “free market”; critical under-funding by National (no surprises there);  and the best silver-lining that farmers could possibly hope for…

The ‘bovis’ hits the fan

22 July 2017: Mycoplasma bovis was first detected on dairy farms owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group, near Waimate, in Canterbury. In what must rank as the Understatement of the Year, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigator, Kelly Buckle, announced;

”At the moment, we’re pretty confident it’s just on those two farms.”

By 1 August, a second dairy farm in South Canterbury had been confirmed with the infection. An ODT report stated;

The ministry was satisfied the containment measures in place were sufficient to control any spread of the disease from the properties involved.

By 29 May this year, the sobering reality of the outbreak turned earlier optimism of containment into a bleak joke;

The cull will involve 152,000 animals over 1-2 years – or an extra 126,000 on top of the planned cull to date.

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The estimated costs of attempting to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis [sic] are $886 million over 10 years, against an estimated cost of $1.2 billion to manage the disease over the long term and an estimated $1.3 billion in lost production from doing nothing.

At this point the Government believes that 37 farms have infected livestock and 192 farms in total will face stock culling – 142 in the first year.

But high-risk animal movements have been traced to 3000 farms and 858 are under surveillance.

The ease of spread of the micro-organism quickly revealed a fatal flaw in the administration of our bio-security systems.

NAIT – the system that farmers nobbled

As the infection was detected on one farm after another, it soon became apparent that dairy farmers had either ignored, or been slow to comply with the NAIT (National Animal Identification and Tracing) system of tracking farm animals.

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As Alexa Cook reported for Radio NZ in December last year;

Under the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system, all cattle and deer farmers must have stock tagged and registered, and also record and confirm any animals that are bought, sold or moved.

A March 2018 report from Radio NZ found that around half of the country’s farmers were flouting this critical process;

A review of NAIT found only 57 percent of farmers who record their animal movements, do so within the required 48 hours.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was not happy. He was moved to state the obvious;

“NAIT is an important part of our biosecurity net and it needs improvement.

Mycoplasma bovis is mostly spread through movement of infected cattle from farm to farm. This means cattle traceability between properties is critical to finding all affected animals, and stopping further infection”

O’Connor warned that farmers who ignored NAIT would face fines.

Even Federated Farmers was not impressed with the slackness shown toward NAIT.  Waikato Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairperson, Chris Irons, was highly critical of his fellow farmers;

“Let’s be frank – the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme is not working as well as it should, and the blame lies with farmers.

Yes, NAIT could be easier to use but that’s not an excuse for not keeping animal tracking data up to date.

There are a lot of farmers who say NAIT is waste of time and money. If you have that view then I’m sorry, but I don’t think you care about the farming industry and are probably guilty of not being compliant.

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NAIT currently does a good job of tracking animals that are registered and all their movements recorded on the database. But the system is only as good as the data put into it.

Owners, sellers and third party buyers have to be diligent about recording cattle and deer movements on their NAIT accounts. The system is fit for purpose when the data is up to date, but falls down when it’s incomplete, or not entered at all.

If we have a fast moving outbreak it will be vital to have NAIT working so it’s up to all farmers to ensure they are compliant.”

Chris Irons was correct when he pointed out that “NAIT could be easier to use“. The system is clunky, with stock tags having to be manually scanned and then manually uploaded into the central system.  The manual aspect of it makes the system unwieldy and easy to “set aside to do later” – if at all.

Full electronic automation would cost millions, and would raise the question of who would pay. This blogger understands MPI was never adequately budgeted for full automation.

It is unclear who would pay for NAIT to be upgraded; the Ministry or farmers?

By May this year, the full extent of farmers’ undermining of NAIT became apparent. Prime Minister Ardern did not mince her words;

“There was a system in place, it has failed abysmally and we are now picking up the pieces of that.

We want to make sure that first and foremost we deal with the issue at hand and that is Mycoplasma bovis and trying to pin down its spread and still focus on the possibility of eradication. The second question is: How do we prevent this from ever happening again?”

Biosecurity NZ’s spokesperson, Geoff Gwynn, spelled out the consequences of the failure to carry out NAIT processes;

“It’s a reality of New Zealand’s farming system that large numbers of animals are sold and moved across big distances.

This response is serving to underline just how much movement takes place and it is this, coupled with poor record keeping through NAIT that is making our job very challenging.”

In part, the spread of Mycoplasma bovis has been a crisis of farmers’ own making.

The “she’ll be right, mate” attitude simply will not cut it in an age of rapid international travel. Harmful micro-organisms and other pests can easily cross the planet and humanity’s artificial borders within days or even hours, on the back of our 21st century transport technology.

But perhaps the greatest irony is that whilst farmers had been lax sharing critical information on stock movements as per NAIT requirements – they were far less shy demanding information from MPI on what was being done to  identify infected farms; eradication/containment of the microscopic invader; and compensation paid out post-haste for culled stock animals.

If farmers had complied with NAIT and provided stock transfer data in a timely and precise fashion, they might not now be in a position where they were braying for information from those same Ministry officials.

The dreaded disease whose name we dare to speak

Waikato Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairperson, Chris Irons, issued this stark warning to his fellow farmers;

“There’s too many farmers who are just ‘oh nah, just don’t want to do it’, but at the end of the day it’s got to be done because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to track any diseases.

If we get something faster than m.bovis – like foot and mouth or something – we’ve got to have a reliable system. At the moment the system is reliant on farmers doing their bit and having their records up to date.”

Like foot and mouth or something“?!

Mycoplasma bovis is a nasty bug. There is little doubt in that. According to MPI, it is present in most other countries around the world. Only until last year, New Zealand was free of the disease. As MPI graphically described, it has multiple symptoms;

Major syndromes seen in other countries with Mycoplasma bovis include atypical mastitis in cows (both dry and in milk) – (the chance of this disease likely increases with increasing herd size), arthritis in cows and calves, atypical, difficult-to-treat pneumonia in calves, middle ear infection (otitis media) in calves, severe pneumonia of adult cows (usually rare), and abortion. All conditions are difficult to treat once the animal becomes sick.

Yet, Mycoplasma bovis is almost the agrarian version of the common cold when compared to a disease that every animal farmer must live in mortal fear of: foot and mouth (Aphthae epizooticae).

In a 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak in Great Britain, farms were quarantined and isolated behind Police barriers;

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Movement was curtailed;

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Millions of stock animals were culled and incinerated on massive pyres;

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Each of those cases meant a farm having all of its livestock killed and burned. By the time the last case was confirmed at Whygill Head Farm in Appleby, Cumbria, on 30 September 2001, more than six million sheep, cattle and pigs had been slaughtered.

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The Guardian reported just some of the effects on British farmers and businesspeople;

The list of victims is long. At the head of it should be the nearly 3m animals slaughtered and burned, along with the 68,000 cows, sheep and pigs set to follow them on to the funeral pyres. Next on the list would be the clutch of farmers who, despite £125m already pledged in compensation, will be driven out of business by an epidemic that swept through their land as devastating as a tornado. After them, the hoteliers and restaurateurs who saw their livelihoods dry up as the world’s travellers declared Britain a medievally benighted no-go area.

The financial cost was horrendous; £3 billion to the public sector and  £5 billion to the private sector.

Tourism income  lost/displaced between £2.7 and £3.2 billion. It took nine months to bring foot-and-mouth under control and stop the spread.

Farmers who were not infected with foot and mouth, but still lost income through massive restrictions to livestock movement, were not compensated.

The invisible psychological effects were perhaps the worst;

The disease epidemic was a human tragedy, not just an animal one. Respondents’ reports showed that life after the foot and mouth disease epidemic was accompanied by distress, feelings of bereavement, fear of a new disaster, loss of trust in authority and systems of control, and the undermining of the value of local knowledge. Distress was experienced across diverse groups well beyond the farming community. Many of these effects continued to feature in the diaries throughout the 18 month period.

[…] The use of a rural citizens’ panel allowed data capture from a wide spectrum of the rural population and showed that a greater number of workers and residents had traumatic experiences than has previously been reported.

Despite the effects of Mycoplasma bovis, New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports are largely unimpeded.

That will not be the case if – or more likely – when foot-and-mouth reaches our shores. With tourism numbers at 3.3 million in 2015/16 and expected to reach 4.9 million visitors by 2023, it is only a matter of time when one individual carries the dreaded foot and mouth micro-organism into our country.

If 100% of New Zealand farmers are not 100% compliant with NAIT in the coming years, the nightmarish havoc wrought by a foot and mouth outbreak will be unlike anything Mycoplasma bovis has wrought.

It is a tough lesson, but the farming sector should be thankful of Mycoplasma bovis (and the person who inadvertently imported it). Whatever supernatural deities there might be have delivered a clear warning to us all.

Observe the rules. Follow the NAIT system.

No exceptions.

Or face worse consequences.

National, the Free Market and minimal-government

Remember this guy?

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He must be feeling a bit of a right ‘wally’ right now.

As ‘Advantage‘ recently wrote for The Standard;

Remember those Morrinsville farmers who protested against our ‘communist’ Prime Minister? Those are the guys we are feeding our taxpayer dollars towards right now

A  Herald report backed up the anonymous blogger’s observation;

The Government will cover 68 per cent costs and the dairy and beef industry bodies the remainder.

The estimated costs of attempting to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis [sic] are $886 million over 10 years, against an estimated cost of $1.2 billion to manage the disease over the long term and an estimated $1.3 billion in lost production from doing nothing.

Perhaps this  US cartoon best shows how those with a distrust of “big government” (or any government) in their lives suddenly have a remarkable Road-to-Damascus conversion when faced with a crisis beyond their abilities to manage;

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Left to the ‘tender mercies’ of a small government, an unfettered free market, and minimal state involvement, how much could farmers expect as compensation for a disease outbreak and culling of their stocks?

Easy answer: nil. As in nothing.

They would be expected to buy their own insurance. User pays would be the rule.

Whether a farmer with an infectious disease would notify authorities (whether such “authorities” would even exist in a minimalist government is a moot point) without compensation, or any other personal benefit, would be an interesting question.

In a purist free market where everyone looks out for him/herself, what would be the incentive to act for the “greater good” of other people?

Fortunately we still have a State and the remnants of collective responsibility when faced with overwhelming circumstances.

Whether a person is a solo mother living in a State house or a farmer with a ten million dollar investment – the State exists to protect it’s citizens when faced with crisis beyond their coping abilities.

The  next time farmers read a media story of a State house tenant unjustly turfed out of their home, or a welfare recipient who has been abused by WINZ until driven to suicide – they should pause for a moment. Perhaps their sympathies may now  be just a little closer aligned with those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap.

National – the party of preference for most farmers – has said on multiple occasions that state assistance should be “targeted“; that tax-payers dollars should only go to those who are most-in-need (even though National then demonises those very same people-in-most-need).

In a free-market, small-government world, a minimal amount of state assistance might be channeled to the poorest of the poor. Just a barely sufficient amount to stave off starvation and prevent embarrassing piles of corpses from inconveniently cluttering up the streets. But state assistance to compensate farmers?

Forget it.

At election time, farmers should think carefully before ticking the Party box. They should ask themselves;

How small do they really want government to get?

In the meantime, our farming friend above should consider changing the text for his next sign;

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A little appreciation goes a long way.

Vote Biosecurity

As the twin effects of the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis and two tax cuts in 2009 and 2010 impacted on government tax revenue, National was forced to break one of its election promises. It cut back on spending and public services.

It soon became apparent that no part of the State sector would be untouched by National’s then-Finance Minister, Bill English, as Richard Wagstaff of the PSA explained;

The Public Service Association is concerned about the significant risks involved in cutting jobs at MAF Biosecurity, whose staff work on our borders protecting New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar agriculture sector from pests and diseases.

MAF Biosecurity has today announced that’s its disestablishing around 60 jobs by cutting 30 filled positions and disestablishing 30 vacant positions. MAF Biosecurity says the job cuts are in response to falling trade and passenger volumes.

“But the government is also responsible for these job losses as it cut the baseline funding for MAF Biosecurity by $1.9 million in the Budget delivered in May,” says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Our concern is that the New Zealand’s economy depends on our farming and horticulture industries that could be decimated if diseases like foot and mouth and fruit fly got into the country.”

“MAF Biosecurity staff work to prevent these diseases and pests from crossing our borders so it’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area,” says Richard Wagstaff.

Richard Wagstaff’s stark warning became a grim reality as fruit flies, moths, the psa virus, and then Mycoplasma bovis crossed our weakened border controls.

It is difficult to make direct comparisons with  some of the data from National’s Budgets. Categories were changed from the 2009 Budget to the 2010 Budget onward. Much of the budgetary allocations were “buried” with Vote Primary Industries.

However, it is clear that two overall categories can be compared;

  • Border Clearance Services and Border Biosecurity Monitoring and Clearance
  • The overall total of budgetary allocations to biosecurity which from 2012 onward were obtained from the Summaries of each document.

The figures appear to show a steady decline in biosecurity funding from 2008 (Labour’s Michael Cullen’s last budget) to 2014, of thirteen million dollars. This is not accounting for inflation, which would mean an even greater decline in funding levels.

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Note A: From Budget 2012, Vote Biosecurity was merged with Vote Agriculture & Forestry, and Vote Fisheries into the Vote Primary Industries.
Note B: Linked references to Budget documents listed below..
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Corresponding international visitor arrivals continued rising (with only a slight drop in 2009, post-GFC).

Annual imports fell post-2008,but regained steadily after 2011. By 2013, imports had all but returned to 2008 levels (not taking inflation into account).

What is clear is that biosecurity does not appear to have been adequately funded. National’s cost-cutting (until 2013 and 2014) must have impacted on our ability to monitor and prevent pest incursions.

This would appear to coincide with the appearance of several destructive pests recently;

Whatever “savings” National made by cutting back on biosecurity were, by definition, false economies. Once again, cuts to an essential state sector service inevitably created grave consequences.

This time for our farming sector.

The next time National promises tax cuts at election time and to make “efficiencies” to “do more with less“, this is a lesson that the farming sector should remember with some bitterness.

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Those so-called “cost-savings” didn’t come cheap. A fact farmers should bear in mind when it comes time to cull herds exposed/infected with Mycoplasma bovis.

 

Acknowledgement: thank you to a certain scientist who gave her time to proof-read my article and offer constructive criticism.

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References

Wikipedia: Mycoplasma bovis

NZ Herald:  Confidence mycoplasma bovis outbreak contained

ODT: Another meeting as second farm infected

NZ Herald: MPI will face ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude on M. Bovis, farmer says

Radio NZ: Incomplete farm records slow tracking of cattle disease spread

Radio NZ: Farmers face checkpoints in effort to stop cattle disease

Fairfax media: NAIT responsibility – the buck stops with farmers

Radio NZ: M Bovis spread – Tracking system has ‘failed abysmally’ – PM

NewstalkZB: Farmer slams Govt over bovis communication

MPI: Two-page summary of Mycoplasma bovis

Wikipedia: 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak

The Guardian: The news from Ground Zero – foot and mouth is winning

BBC: When foot-and-mouth disease stopped the UK in its tracks

The Guardian: A catalogue of failures that discredits the whole system

National Audit Office: The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease

NCBI: Economic costs of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001

NCBI: Psychosocial effects of the 2001 UK foot and mouth disease epidemic in a rural population: qualitative diary based study

MoBIE: New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2017-2023

Radio NZ: Man still repaying debt from unnecessary HNZ meth eviction

Fairfax media: Aggressive prosecution focus at MSD preceded woman’s death, inquest told

National Party: Low income earners to subsidise homes for wealthy

National: Achievements – Social investment

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Mediaworks/Newshub: Labour – Key promised no job cuts, asset sales in 2008 speech

Fairfax media:  Jobs expected to go in state sector cuts

Scoop media: Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

NZ Herald: New Zealand fruit fly free after successful operation

MPI: Red clover casebearer moth

Mediaworks/Newshub: Crown opens case in kiwifruit claim over Psa virus outbreak

NZ Treasury: Budget 2008Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2009Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2010Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2011Vote Biosecurity

NZ Treasury: Budget 2012Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2013Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2014Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2015Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2016Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2017Vote Primary Industries (inclu Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury: Budget 2018Vote Primary Industries (inclu Vote Biosecurity)

NZ Treasury:  Budget 2012 – Introduction – Estimates of Appropriations 2012/13

Statistics NZ: Exports and imports hit new highs in 2017

Statistics NZ: International visitor arrivals to New Zealand – 2008 – 2018 (alt. link)

NZ Herald: Kiwifruit disease Psa explained

MPI: Pea weevil

MPI: Eucalyptus variegated beetle

Fairfax media: Velvetleaf, one of world’s worst weeds, confirmed on three Waikato farms

MPI: No further Tau flies found and restrictions now lifted

MPI: Culex sitiens mosquito

Radio NZ: English hints at further tax cuts

NZ Herald: Key pledges state service shake-up

Scoop media: Speech – John Key – Better Public Services

Additional

Wikipedia: Biosecurity in New Zealand

MPI: Keeping watch

Radio NZ: Failings in NZ’s stock tracking system (audio)

Radio NZ: Cattle and oysters – a catalogue of issues: Damien O’Connor (audio)

Radio NZ: One in five farmers ignoring safety regs – WorkSafe

Other Blogs

The Standard: It’s Time for a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Dairy Farming

Previous related blogposts

Bugs and balls-ups!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 June 2018.

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Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

17 July 2013 7 comments

On 24 May, I blogged about an apparent trade crisis between New Zealand and China, as our meat shipments were held up at  Chinese borders – ostensibly  for “incorrect” paperwork;

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whats-the-beef-guv-blogpost-frank-macskasy-frankly-speaking

See previous blogpost:  What’s the beef, guv?

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Minister for Food Safety, Nikki Kaye said,

We’ve got MFAT officials and MPI officials working around the clock to resolve this,” says Minister for Food Safety Nikki Kaye. “We’ve been providing technical documentation through to Chinese authorities and we remain confident that this will be resolved in the near future.”

Acknowledgment: TV3 –  Meat held up in China costing NZ industry

It’s interesting that TV3 report stated,

The problem is believed to have arisen after the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries recently became the Ministry of Primary Industries and Chinese border controls aren’t recognising the new names and logos on the export certificates.”

Acknowledgment:  IBID

Other media also repeated the official government line – that this was a bureacratic “paper work problem”. Ministers were even muttering  dark threats at disciplining MPI staff  who might have been responsible for this  “incorrect paperwork” mess.

However, I found this excuse to be weak and unbelievable. Why?

Because as I wrote on 24 May, the  MAF (Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries)  became the MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries,  well over a year ago.

So why had this crisis arisen only now?

My contention is that the meat export problem was politically motivated. A free trade agreement was in the process of being negotiated between Taiwan and New Zealand,

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NZ close to Taiwan free trade agreement

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – NZ close to Taiwan free trade agreement

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China was flexing it’s political muscle over a free trade agreement being negotiated between New Zealand and Taiwan – a state which China regards as a “renegade province”.

China was reminding  New Zealand  “who’s boss”.

On 10 June, TV1 News reported that the free trade agreement with Taiwan had been concluded and signed.

However, the news story was curiously reported from  two different angles. The TVNZ website reported a purely trade-driven story,

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NZ signs trade agreement with Taiwan

Acknowledgment: TVNZ – NZ signs trade agreement with Taiwan

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There was no mention of any political dimension in the about report. China (mainland) was not even mentioned, even in passing.

Contrast that to the evening news story on the same day; July 10,

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NZ signs trade agreement with Taiwan - tv report

Acknowledgment: TVNZ – NZ signs trade agreement with Taiwan – TV Broadcast Report

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The relevant story starts at 5:20.

The newsreader, Melissa Stokes opened with this introduction,

New Zealand has signed a free trade agreement with Taiwan. It’s likely to save our exporters at least $75 million a year, but it’s China’s influence  on the agreement that’s raising questions.

It was pointed out that no government Minister attended the signing of the Taiwan-New Zealand Agreement – a marked contrast to the much-hyped signing of the China-New Zealand FTA in 2008. Or National’s signing of an FTA with Malaysia in 2009,

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PM hails signing of Malaysian deal

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media:  PM hails signing of Malaysian deal

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The journalist covering the signing, Brian Boswell, asked the Taiwan representative an obvious question,

Brian Boswell:  “Would you like a Government minister [to be] here?

Elliott Charng (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) replied:   “Yes. Of course.

Indeed he would.

But this blogger believes that China made it abundantly clear to the Beehive that any agreement signed with it’s “renegade province” had to be a ‘low-level’ event,  without the presence of any government Ministers or MPs present.

As Boswell remarked,  “ But there were none. This agreement was kept under wraps until the last minute despite Taiwan being our eight largest export market.”

Stephen Payton – from the NZ Commerce and Industry Office – appeared to be the most senior representative of the New Zealand government present at the signing.  His comments were illuminating,

This agreement is signed in terms of New Zealand’s One China policy. And so we have to observe certain contraints around how we deal with Chinese Taipei.”

Indeed!

To drive the point home to viewers, Boswell added,

China doesn’t recognise Taiwan as being independent and pressures other countries to do the same.”

“Pressures”?

Such as blockading millions of dollars of our meat exports at Chinese ports?

Green MP, Kennedy Graham, a former diplomat, said,

Credit as it sees it and some economic progress out of this deal. But at the same time it’s genuflecting politically to one of the world’s superpowers,  and probably being orchestrated behind the scenes by the same super power.”

Boswell finished his report with this remarkable comment,

It’s taken more than a year of negotiations. Sources have told One News that China was extensively briefed about the deal and told about the signing.”

This story puts the May blockade of our exports into context and sheds new light on what really transpired.

It now appears that negotiations with Taiwan originally excluded China – which put a few noses out of joint in Beijing – and which provoked a hidden diplomatic incident. This incident was carefully masked by both Beijing and Wellington as a “bureacratic mix up”, as it served neither government’s interests that this become public.

After all, it had been over  year that the new MPI documentation had been in use, so it is inconceivable that all of a sudden such a trivial issue could interfere with millions of dollars of  trade.

This blogger posits the following;

  • Beijing noted the free trade agreement being negotiated between Wellington and Taiwan.
  • Beijing demanded that it be consulted and “certain contraints around how we deal with Chinese Taipei”  observed.
  • Someone at MFAT disregarded China’s demands.
  • China insisted.
  • MFAT ignored it – or fobbed them off.
  • Big mistake on our part.
  • Beijing reacted with a partial blockade of our exports.
  • Ministers – who had been kept out of the loop, or fed minimal information – were caught out in surprise.
  • The Beehive failed to react quickly enough, as Ministers tried to figure out what was going on.
  • Beijing tightened the screws.
  • The Beehive tried to negotiate.
  • No negotiations, responded Beijing, and insisted it’s demands be met.
  • As our exports languished at Chinese ports, pressure mounted on Key’s ministers – who eventually capitulated.
  • Upshot: any agreement with Taiwan would be at a  low-level; with minimal governmental recognition; Beijing would be kept fully appraised; and diplomatic recognition would not be permitted.

It was a stern lesson in super-power muscle-flexing  delivered to the Beehive in a way that no New Zealand politician would ever be likely to forget  in a hurry.

Meanwhile, as I predicted in May,

On Radio NZ, Primary Industries minister, Nathan Guy stated,

“I’m very disappointed in my officials – issuing export certification is really their core business. And I’m disappointed in how this issue has come to bear. Normally, we have a very strong system and this is very unusual.”

However speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme, Nathan Guy refused to be drawn on whether any disciplinary action will be taken against staff for the blunder.

Mr Guy said that was a matter for MPI director-general Wayne McNee.

“By and large, MPI do fantastic work and we’ve had an issue here, and I’ve asked the director-general to get to the bottom of it.”

What’s the bet that this entire issue sinks quietly out of sight and nothing is ever heard about it again?

Has anyone heard “whether any disciplinary action was be taken against staff for the blunder “?

Nope.

It kind of  sank quietly out of sight.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 July 2013.

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What’s the beef, guv?

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COMPOSITE

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The recent spectacle of our meat exports to China stuck at their ports raised eyebrows, hackles… and a few questions.

The news broke on TV3 on 17 May,

New Zealand’s beef and lamb is still being blocked from entering China.

The meat industry says it’s a huge concern and is already costing a lot of money.

The issue was revealed on 3 News last night and it’s understood the problem arose because Chinese authorities weren’t informed of the name change of a New Zealand government ministry.

The meat is not allowed into the country and hasn’t been now for nearly a week.

Acknowledgment: TV3 –  Meat held up in China costing NZ industry

The reason given, at the same time the story broke was that there was confusion over “paperwork”,

The problem is believed to have arisen after the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries recently became the Ministry of Primary Industries and Chinese border controls aren’t recognising the new names and logos on the export certificates.

The Government says they are working hard to resolve the issue.

“We’ve got MFAT officials and MPI officials working around the clock to resolve this,” says Minister for Food Safety Nikki Kaye. “We’ve been providing technical documentation through to Chinese authorities and we remain confident that this will be resolved in the near future.”

Acknowledgment:  IBID

It’s interesting that the TV3 report stated, “The problem is believed to have arisen after the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries recently became the Ministry of Primary Industries and Chinese border controls aren’t recognising the new names and logos on the export certificates“.

Why?

Because MAF (Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries)  became MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries,  well over a year ago,

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MAF to become Ministry for Primary Industries

Acknowledgment: Beehive – MAF to become Ministry for Primary Industries

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Note the dates in the Beehive media release: 30 April 2012. One would assume that all forms, letterhead, and other paperwork would have been re-printed in time for the 30 April launch of the new  Ministry of Primary Industries? Government departments and ministries are noted for spending considerable sums on new stationary.

It seems curious then, that the Chinese authorities have only now realised that the MAF had been replaced by a completely different name, acronym, and logo? Why now?

If I was of a suspicious mind (and why should anyone be suspicious of this National government?), I would be wondering if this recent event had anything to do with the blocking of our meat exports to China,

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NZ close to Taiwan free trade agreement

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – NZ close to Taiwan free trade agreement

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The above story goes on to state,

Officially, both Taiwan and China claim sovereignty over the other, a situation which has maintained since the Communist Party took control of mainland China and established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

China makes adhering to a One-China policy a pre-condition of diplomatic relations.

New Zealand’s relations with Taiwan are now maintained through an office of the Wellington Employers Chamber of Commerce of Taipei.

Sources say the issue of free trade with Taiwan was raised when Prime Minister John Key led a major trade delegation to China in April, as part of an established ”no surprises” policy of keeping Beijing informed of our relations with China.

Trade Minister Tim Groser declined to comment.

Acknowledgment: IBID

Mainland China claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, which it regards as a “renegade province”. Had it not been for US support, China would have re-occupied the island as it did with Tibet in the 1950s – over which it also claims suzerainty.

A suspicious mind would wonder if something has gone awry between China and New Zealand, and the former was flexing it’s super-muscle to remind the Beehive just who’s boss around here.

It just seems to much of a coincidence that the blocking of our exports happened at a time when NZ officials are negotiating a free trade agreement with Taiwan.

It’s interesting that, as the above report states,  “New Zealand does not officially recognise Taiwan as a country“.

If so – then did Beijing demand a voice in any FTA deal with Taipei?

And were NZ officials (or politicians) foolish enough to dismiss those demands?

On Radio NZ, Primary Industries minister, Nathan Guy stated,

“I’m very disappointed in my officials – issuing export certification is really their core business. And I’m disappointed in how this issue has come to bear. Normally, we have a very strong system and this is very unusual.”

However speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme, Nathan Guy refused to be drawn on whether any disciplinary action will be taken against staff for the blunder.

Mr Guy said that was a matter for MPI director-general Wayne McNee.

“By and large, MPI do fantastic work and we’ve had an issue here, and I’ve asked the director-general to get to the bottom of it.”

What’s the bet that this entire issue sinks quietly out of sight and nothing is ever heard about it again?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 May 2013.

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References

Beehive: MAF to become Ministry for Primary Industries (6 March 2012)

Fairfax Media: NZ close to Taiwan free trade agreement (19 May 2013)

TV3:  Meat held up in China costing NZ industry (18 May 2013)

Radio NZ: Minister blames officials for meat blockade in China (23 May 2013)

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= fs =

Bugs and balls-ups!

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Three years ago, in July 2009, the Public Service Association issued this prescient media release to the country,

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Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009, 9:44 am
Press Release: Public Service Association

Significant risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

The Public Service Association is concerned about the significant risks involved in cutting jobs at MAF Biosecurity, whose staff work on our borders protecting New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar agriculture sector from pests and diseases.

MAF Biosecurity has today announced that’s its disestablishing around 60 jobs by cutting 30 filled positions and disestablishing 30 vacant positions. MAF Biosecurity says the job cuts are in response to falling trade and passenger volumes.

“But the government is also responsible for these job losses as it cut the baseline funding for MAF Biosecurity by $1.9 million in the Budget delivered in May,” says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Our concern is that the New Zealand’s economy depends on our farming and horticulture industries that could be decimated if diseases like foot and mouth and fruit fly got into the country.”

“MAF Biosecurity staff work to prevent these diseases and pests from crossing our borders so it’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area,” says Richard Wagstaff.

MAF Biosecurity says if foot and mouth reached New Zealand virtually all exports of meat, animal by-products and dairy products would stop. They would not resume until at least three months after the slaughter of the last infected animal. The country’s trade reputation would be damaged, unemployment would rise by about 20,000 and Gross Domestic Product would be cut by $10 billion over a two year period.

“We are not opposed to public service staffing being linked to demand for public services,” says Richard Wagstaff.

“But this should work both ways and staff numbers should be increased when demand for public services rises,” says Richard Wagstaff.

The PSA has been consulted about the proposed job cuts at MAF Biosecurity.

“As well as being concerned about the risk to our biosecurity we’re concerned the job cuts could actually push up MAF Biosecurity costs if staff have to do extra overtime or staff who are cut have to be brought back as the workload increases,” says Richard Wagstaff.

Source

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Being the clever folk that we New Zealanders generally are, we undertook  the usual response when confronted with a warning about an  imprudent government policy.

New Zealanders ignored it.

We were too busy. It was someone else’s problem. And that nice, smiling  man,  John Key,  had just been elected  promising us lots of lovely money  by way of tax cuts.

Of course, being such trusting sheep people, we ignored warnings that the recession was biting hard into our economy and tax cuts could only be sustained by massive borrowings from overseas… and cuts to government services. We didn’t seem to care. We just wanted tax cuts. It didn’t seem to matter to most folk that John Key’s government was sacking state sector workers and cutting back on essential services.

Services like… bio-security.

Even as government was instructing MAF’s Biosecurity New Zealand to sack sixty of it’s staff,  container traffic was increasing into the country,

Port Taranaki CEO Roy Weaver said it had been a record year for containers at the port.

Mr Weaver said more than 65,100 containers had gone through the port to the year ended June 30, up from 60,000 the previous year.

Port Taranaki was primarily an export port. Mr Weaver said containers arriving at the port from high-risk countries were targeted by MAF staff.”

Source

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It seems inconceivable that MAF’s 700 staff could inspect 65,100 containers just at Port Taranaki alone – never mind ports at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Plus international airports at Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Plus dozens of cruise ships every summer.

But government was determined. They wanted 60 staff sacked.

All to save $1.9 million dollars. That’s right, folks; one point nine million dollars.

Richard Wagstaff from the PSA pointed out,  that the farming and horticulture industries could be ruined if diseases such as foot and mouth and pests such a fruitfly got into the country. (Daily News, 9 July 2009)

It’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area.  A foot-and-mouth incursion could cut 20,000 jobs and reduce gross domestic product by $10 billion over a two-year period.”

In September 2009, as the Biosecurity Amendment Bill was being debated in Parliament, Labour’s Brendon Burns (MP, Christchurch Central) had this warning to make,

I am very pleased to take a short call on the Biosecurity Amendment Bill, and, yes, Labour supports this bill going to the Primary Production Committee, of which I am a member. We welcome the proposal to increase the fines available for those who breach our biosecurity regulations.

As has been mentioned, however, there are some very real fears in that the Government is giving, if you like, some stiffening to the biosecurity regulations, but it is taking with the other arm, in the sense that we are losing 54 biosecurity staff. Those staff are the thin green line that protects and preserves our $20 billion – plus agricultural production export base. It is a very thin line. I have spoken to Christchurch biosecurity staff; they tell me it is already very hard to do their job properly, and this is before we see the loss of staff that is currently taking place. If those staff are not able to do their job properly, then goodness help this nation, because everything we have and hold dear is reliant upon their being able to do their best to protect and preserve our borders….”

Source

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As Burns also stated,

“...the varroa mite is estimated to have cost this nation between $273 million and $486 million in lost production, jobs, and exports.”

By May of this year, Richard Wagstaff reported that 500 jobs had been cut in the biosecurity service since his organisation first issued that dire, prophetic warning three years ago.

All done to “save” a few million bucks.

Now, we have the prospect of  having entire suburbs in Auckland being contained in some kind of loose “quarantine”, after a Queensland fruit fly was caught in a pest surveillance trap,

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NOT WANTED: Queensland Fruit Fly

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Considering that the Queensland fruit fly costs the Australian economy approximately  $160 million a year, this is a very real threat  to New Zealand’s own $5 billion annual horticultural industry.

Five billion dollars, per year, every year. All under threat because this government wanted to save a few million bucks by employing fewer biosecurity staff.

As if the discovery of a  painted apple moth in 1999; the varroa mite infestation of our honey hives in 2000; and other isolated instances of pests found in this country did not serve as a warning to us – National  proceeded to cut back on biosecurity staffing.

This blogger wonders sometimes (actually, all the time) what goes through the minds of our esteemed Honourable Ministers of Her Majesty’s Government. These are supposedly well-educated men and women, with support from thousands of University-educated advisors – and yet they still manage to accomplish the most incredibly moronic decisions conceivable.

National has put at risk this country’s  $5 billion industry – simply to save a few million dollars.

They have risked horticulturalist’s businesses; workers their jobs; and all the down-stream economic activity – to save a small percentage of billions.

This blogger has three pieces of advice for all concerned,

  1. John Key must  accept the resignation of  David Carter, Minister for Bio-security immediatly.
  2. National must reinstate biosecurity services to pre-2009 levels.
  3. Horticulturalists (and others who own farms and other agricultural businesses) should carefully consider whether National is working on their behalf – or for the sake of implementing false economies. What is the point of an orchardist voting for National – if National is going to screw his/her business by cutting back on essential government services such as biosecurity?!?!

Hopefully, this  fruit fly is a lone bug; perhaps a stowaway in someone’s bag or in a container offloaded at Ports of Auckland.

If so, once again we’ve been lucky.

But how long will our  luck hold out?

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Addendum

A quote from a poster on another blog,

Attack building regulations and get a leaky homes disaster.

Attack banking regulations and get a global financial crisis.

Attack mine safety regulations and get 29 dead men at Pike River.

Attack bio-security regulations and get a fruit fly disaster.” – ‘vto’, The Standard, 12 May 2012

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References

Scoop:  Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

Daily News:  Farming at risk if biosecurity jobs cut, PSA warns

TVNZ:  Minister warned about biosecurity concerns

Fairfax News:  Fruit restrictions in place

Dominion Post:  Biosecurity savings ‘false economy’

Biosecurity NZ webpage

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That was Then, this is Now #6

30 August 2011 4 comments

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National Party policy quote: http://tinyurl.com/6zm3mo2

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Previous Blog post

That was Then, this is Now #5

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National – as fiscally prudent as a heroin addict?

John Key today announced that the proceeds from state asset sales could be used for roading…

Now hang on a mo’…

I thought National was intending to part-privatise Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, coal miner Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand to pay off some of the $71 billion debt that National has racked up since it came to office in 2008?!

Now Key is suggesting that National may use the proceeds to pay for roading? Strangely enough, Key makes no mention of selling state assets to fund infra-structure here.

The questions that spring to my mind are;

1. Where is the income from Road User charges, gst on fuel, and other roading-related taxes that we are paying every time we fill up our vehicles at the pumps???

2. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the profits from Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, coal miner Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand, for infra-structure spending – rather han the actual generators of those profits???

3. If National has to rely on asset sales for infra-structure spending – what will they be relying on once all state assets are privatised and we’ve lost the entire income-stream???

This is like a heroin addict selling his car to pay for his next ‘fix’. What will he sell next? And what will he do once all his possessions are gone?

It’s not exactly a “good look” when a government behaves like a drug addict.

As for the good people of Kapiti – they got the government they voted for. It’s hard for me to feel any sympathy on this issue. My thoughts are with the 140 people who lost their jobs at MAF today. Or the thousands of others who’ve been made redundant these last three years.

My anger is directed at those individuals who blame welfare beneficiaries for the predicament they are in. The finger-pointers who blame the poorest and most vulnerable for daring to be poor and vulnerable.

To the people of Kapiti; you helped elect this government to office. You now have a wee taste of what it feels like to be steam-rolled and to be victimised.

Remember this on 26 November.