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28 April 2000
MAF know-how in applying risk analysis to animal health has been acknowledged internationally, with staff invited to give key presentations at recent overseas conferences for the world animal health organisation, the OIE.
National Manager of Risk Management, Biosecurity, Dr Stuart MacDiarmid, was invited to join a five person working group organising a conference on the application of risk analysis to aquatic animal health issues (these include fish, shellfish, shrimp etc), and two other staff members made presentations.
Dr MacDiarmid explains that risk analysis is a structured and scientific approach to making decisions in the face of uncertainty. It involves identifying what could go wrong in any procedure, assessing the likelihood of this, and formulating ways to manage that risk. Used for some decades in fields such as engineering and business, risk analysis has become important since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in the area of animal health issues surrounding trade.
" One of our obligations as a member of the WTO is to remove barriers to trade, unless it can be demonstrated that there is a genuine risk to human, animal or plant health," Dr MacDiarmid says. "It’s not sufficient to believe there is a risk – you have to demonstrate it in a disciplined and documented manner."
Stuart MacDiarmid says the application of risk analysis to the importation of animals and animal products is of vital importance to New Zealand. "We have an enviable disease free status. Our livestock are free of important diseases and we have a unique native fauna which must be protected."
But he explains the whole issue is a delicate balancing act. Some citizens say we should take no risks at all, but there’s no such thing as zero risk. We’d have to stop trading altogether and people want cheap imports and high tourist numbers. So we have to detect where the risks lie and look at ways to manage them."
Issues explored at the aquatic animals conference included the introduction of disease through trade, the spread of disease from aquaculture to wild fish stocks, public health risks from the use of antibiotics in aquaculture, the problems of detecting disease in fish populations and the identification of research needs for these animals.
MAF’s expertise was also sought for another OIE conference – this time to harmonise the approach taken to risk analysis by countries throughout the Americas. Dr MacDiarmid was the only contributor to the conference from outside the area, once again recognition of his international status in the field.