The Auditor-General's warned the Government that there's a serious lack of preparation to fight an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which could devastate livestock farming.
Under-investment in lab facilities and little planning for mass carcass disposal and stock vaccination is to blame.
If there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in New Zealand, similar to the British outbreak in 2001, 1 million animals would need to be slaughtered.
That would fill the equivalent of 27,000 shipping containers.
“An outbreak of foot and mouth would cost New Zealand $8 billion in the first year and $13 billion in the second year. An outbreak of foot and mouth would be disastrous for our economy,” says Labour leader David Shearer.
The Auditor-General says the Ministry for Primary Industry's plan for dealing with such an outbreak is weak.
In 1996 the country's only bio-containment lab was created as part of the animal health laboratory in Upper Hutt. But it has a life of 15 to 20 years and the risk of breakdown is increasing, and that would be a major barrier to dealing effectively with an outbreak.
The report says the high-security laboratory needs an upgrade, and crucially, it found there are no plans for carcass disposal of up to 1 million animals and no plan for the vaccination of animals.
The ministry deals with 30-40 incursions of foreign pests and organisms each year. The Auditor-General says responding taken precedence over preparation and not enough priority has been given to planning.
The ministry spent nearly $55 million in managing biosecurity risks in 2011 and 2012 – in the last year it planned to reduce costs to save almost $20 million dollars.
Labour says those in the industry likely to be affected by breaches have lost faith in the biosecurity agency's ability to protect them.