Is Australia’s biosecurity up to scratch?

Australia is one of the world’s top 22 importers, which means our biosecurity standards need to be up to scratch.

A recent report from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources says otherwise.

Australia’s Inspector-General of Biosecurity Dr Helen Scott-Orr
said the Department’s report on Pest
and disease interceptions and incursions in Australia
revealed gaps
in the biosecurity of Australia’s $35.55 billion imports industry – $8.93
billion of that being food and beverages.

Annually, more than 18,000 vessels, 1.8 million sea cargo
consignments, 41 million air cargo consignments, 152 million international mail
items and 21 million passengers arrive in Australia with numbers growing each

“Intercepting pests and disease-carrying material along
these pathways before they enter and cause incursions in Australia is a huge
challenge for the Department,” Dr Scott-Orr said.

The report, along with another report discussing the
biosecurity measures to manage the brown marmorated stink bugs entering
Australia, was released a week before the inaugural Australian Biosecurity Symposium.

The symposium was an opportunity for 360 of Australia’s biosecurity experts to discuss these new findings. Preventative biosecurity practices was the theme for this year’s symposium, allowing for conversations to focus on research and innovation to transform Australia’s biosecurity systems.

Cargo being loaded into an airplane

The state of
biosecurity in Australia

The report revealed that over six years to 2017, the
Department intercepted over 272 tonnes of meat products at the border.

Twenty-two per cent of meat interceptions were undeclared
and detector dogs found 53 per cent of these. The number of detector dogs
almost halved between 2012 and 2017, meaning less international mail and
passengers were screened.

Over three million sea containers also arrive each year, but
only eight per cent of these actually undergo biosecurity inspections.

“The Department must strengthen arrangements for
intercepting pests, diseases and biosecurity risk management, pathway by
pathway, to ensure that effort is being directed to areas of highest risk.

“It should also prioritise and properly resource these screening and verification programs irrespective of other crises.

Failure to implement them increases the risk on incursions.

Dr Helen Scott-Orr

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona
Simson is in full agreeance with the Inspector-General of Biosecurity.

“Robust biosecurity procedures and policy is essential for
the health, safety and prosperity of Australian agriculture and those whose
livelihoods it relies on.

“For the industry to reach a $100 billion in farm gate
output by 2030 more resources and training is needed at our nation’s borders,”
Ms Simson said.

NFF Farming Systems Committee Chair Melinee Leather is a
lifelong advocate for biosecurity and the 2019
Farm Biosecurity Producer of the Year
and is astounded that the
nation’s biosecurity is not being taken more seriously, especially when dealing
with international trade.

Australian consumers expect and deserve to receive food that is safe and nutritious.

NFF Farming Systems Committee Chair Melinee Leather

“These reports show just how important a focus on Biosecurity is for Australian agriculture. We need to uphold our global reputation as a safe and reliable trading nation,” she said.

Stopping the bugs

One of the biggest biosecurity risks to Australia is the
brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) – an exotic pest that can infest and damage
over 300 host plants, particularly temperate vegetables, fruit and nuts, and
imported agricultural crops.

Dr Scott-Orr found that efforts by the Department to keep
BMSB out in 2018-19 stretched Australia’s border biosecurity system close to
breaking point.

“BMSB could cause major losses for the agricultural industries
of Australia and New Zealand and both countries are working to keep it out.

“Departmental resourcing is inadequate to meet the BMSB
challenge. It is hard to see this changing unless biosecurity funding is
improved,” Dr Scott-Orr said.

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