By Simon Edwards
Two new resources from Biosecurity Business Pledge target the ‘top table’ at New Zealand’s companies and organisations, offering them a checklist of actions to help ensure they’re doing their bit to keep unwanted pests and organisms from reaching our shores.
The significance of biosecurity to our economy and the business community is underscored by its top priority ranking for 11 years straight in the KPMG agribusiness agenda.
Biosecurity Business Pledge executive director Debbie Teale says one of the potential gaps in our biosecurity defences identified at a members’ forum was awareness at CEO and board level. The newly-published ‘CEO Guide to Biosecurity’ and ‘Biosecurity Considerations for Boards’ were developed by Pledge signatory organisations in consultation with a cross-section of Pledge chief executives and governors.
As with other Pledge initiatives, they’re about sparking discussion and sharing best practice.
Former Zespri, now Fonterra, chairman Peter McBride summed up the need for the two new guidance documents: “Our role in ensuring biosecurity risk is managed and embedded into an organisation’s culture has never been more vital than now. If we are to protect our primary sectors and maintain a strong reputation for the quality of our food and fibre exports, then board leadership is essential.”
McBride said biosecurity should also be considered an equal part of good business risk management for corporate governors alongside their approach to health and safety at work, and food safety, with potentially similar levels of legal liability for companies and individual directors.
It’s not just fines and penalties that could result from incursions caused by negligence and poor practice. As the CEO guide notes, the result could be an increased regulatory footprint at offending organisations, not to mention serious business disruption and losses right along the value chain.
“No-one wants to be the head of an organisation importing goods in a shipping container, or using a ship determined to be the source of a biosecurity incursion, impacting or effectively shutting down other businesses, or an entire sector,” the guide says. The threat to our taonga flora and fauna species is another prime driver.
The two guides have all sorts of advice and information, ranging from tightening procurement policies to trusted trader schemes, avoiding ‘hitchhiker’ pests such as Africanised bees, spongy moth and brown marmorated stink bug in imported machinery, and staff training to foster organisation-wide awareness.
The Biosecurity Business Pledge was launched in October 2019 as a way of engaging more businesses to take a proactive approach to biosecurity and collaborate in ways that builds capability. There are now more than 250 signed up members, ranging from all the primary industry organisations (including Federated Farmers); primary sector partners such as Norwood; big players such as Countdown, Foodstuff, Danone and Fonterra; entry point organisations such as our airports and ports; and – demonstrating that biosecurity issues go beyond the obvious risk sectors – smaller companies such as Dunstan Horse Feeds, Tile Warehouse and garage door machinery specialist Merlin.
Debbie Teale is pleased with membership uptake, which has happened despite COVID and all the disruption to businesses, lack of capacity for many due to staff shortages and sicknesses and the ability to meet in person, etc.
“I think it could be said COVID raised awareness of incursions, and taught a lot of people the vernacular around biosecurity.
”Other scares such as Foot & Mouth Disease in Indonesia, and dairy’s Mycoplasma Bovis, have also boosted awareness and may be driving more businesses to signing up to the pledge. There’s widespread recognition that Foot & Mouth reaching here would absolutely slaughter our economy,” Teale says.
Engagement levels in Biosecurity Business Pledge webinars also give Teale heart. “We had 112 participants with the last one. When you’re running webinars you watch the drop off rate but everyone stayed on.
“Our members are very active and willing to share knowledge, even when they’re competitors. We don’t just want people to sign the pledge as some sort of ‘greenwash’, but to actually drive for improvements in practices – and that’s what’s happening.”
Also added to the BBP’s website recently, after requests from the members’ forum, were some examples and template clauses which can be embedded into procurement contracts, templates and policies to help tighten biosecurity practices.
Teale says she is pleased with the work to date and she would welcome more companies and organisations joining to fortifying business practice and strengthening New Zealand’s resilience for future responses should and when incursions occur. This will help put in place an even stronger network of relationships and a broad set of experience and diverse skills to build on.