Onions New Zealand has become the country’s first vegetable peak industry body to join the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) for biosecurity readiness and response.
The move comes as the sector looks to protect its growing focus on international trade.
“(Biosecurity) threats are multiplying exponentially these days through increased tourist trade and increased import trade and in the number and variety of countries were now dealing with,” Onions New Zealand chief executive Michael Ahern told Fairfax Media.
Under the terms of the agreement, Onions New Zealand will work closely with New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to formulate a better understanding of the risks posed to local growers and then devise prevention methods. MPI GIA project leader Dave Talbot said the onion industry would also be better prepared to formulate a response plan in the event of a biosecurity breach.
“If there was a response, through Onions NZ we'd be having the local growers and industry very much involved in the response and that's extremely powerful,” Talbot told Fairfax Media.
New Zealand produces over 210,000 tonnes of onions annually, with over half of the crop grown in the Franklin region. Consequently, the industry would be extremely vulnerable if an outbreak did occur within this region.
“If we did have a biosecurity breach here and if it was something of magnitude, there are ramifications on the local economy and jobs could be indeed effected,” New Zealand minister of primary industries Nathan Guy told local reporters in Pukekohe. "So we're working hard to try and prevent and that's why instead of the government just doing this, it's very much in partnership.”
Ahern said a major concern for local growers was the multitude of different threats to vegetable production, many of which remain unknown.
“There isn't one single nasty like the fruit boys have got with fruit fly and the dairy people have got with foot and mouth,” Ahern explained. "We don't have a number one baddie, we've probably got a galaxy of them and half of which we don't even know."