Farmers are demanding action from the Federal Government on worryingly high levels of biosecurity non-compliance in imported cut flowers and the threat posed to Australia’s agriculture sector and environment.
National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Tony Mahar said the Australian Government has been taking strong action on other biosecurity threats like African swine fever, and it was time for a consistent approach across the board.
“The NFF and our members have been asking for a tougher line to be taken against importers of cut flowers who send contaminated product to Australia,” Mr Mahar said.
“Cut flowers are known carriers of many pests and diseases: biosecurity threats that have the potential to devastate many of Australia’s broadacre and horticulture crops, and the natural environment.”
In 2019, the Department of Agriculture introduced an import permit system for shipments of cut flowers and foliage to Australia from Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador following biosecurity concerns raised by industry. However, these protocols have not had the desired result.
“Unfortunately, this system has not reduced non-compliance from imported cut flowers to a level that is acceptable.
“The current non-compliance rates of up to 50-60 per cent from some importers are too high; even 25 per cent, one in four, frankly, just does not pass the pub test given the risk this poses to our industries.
“As the biosecurity regulator, the Department has a responsibility to manage this risk.”
A review of import conditions for cut flowers in 2017 found that the high rate of live pests in incoming shipments, coupled with a single point of control at the Australian border had a significant potential for failure.
Industry supported the Department’s move to shift biosecurity risk management offshore.
Mr Mahar said the most effective and economical way to protect Australia from pests and diseases was before the border.
“Once a pest or disease gets through the Australian border it’s up to industry and the Australian taxpayer to bear the costs of eradication. If eradication isn’t possible, industry pays through ongoing costs of management and lost production and markets.
“Australia has a natural geographical advantage that sees our agricultural industries free from many of the pests and diseases that hamper other countries.
“We also rely on our biosecurity status for a market access advantage in many key markets. We cannot afford to be complacent.”
“It’s disappointing that the government continues to fail to take the required action to address the unacceptably high non-compliance rates of flower imports from a number of countries, all the while leaving our plant industries vulnerable,” Mr Mahar said.
“We call on the Government to stop going soft on flower imports and stand up for the future of our hard-working growers, growers who collectively support hundreds of thousands of jobs and who are the lifeblood of our regional communities.”