Lucky escape reveals biosecurity flaws
Traces of foot and mouth disease and African swine fever found in intercepted parcels of illegally-imported pork have exposed just how easily a devastating disease could enter Australia if biosecurity systems are not improved, agricultural experts have warned.
“Fortunately, in this instance the offending products were detected at the border,” says National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Chief Executive Tony Mahar. “However, all it takes is one missed parcel to put the productivity, profitability and – ultimately – market access of Australian farmers at serious risk.”
Mahar says there’s no doubt Australian agriculture remains perilously exposed to a pest or disease incursion, as biosecurity systems become increasingly dated and underfunded.
“The importation of new pests and diseases has the potential to bring many agricultural industries to their knees, not only hurting farmers and farming communities but the economy as a whole,” he warns. “Biosecurity is key to controlling domestic weeds and pests and crucially, maintaining and expanding our export markets.
“The cost of a single outbreak has been conservatively estimated to exceed $50 billion.”
Last year, the government failed to implement a biosecurity imports levy as recommended by the Biosecurity Levy Steering Committee. Ahead of this year’s federal budget, the NFF is asking the government to direct $400 million over four years towards a much-needed expansion and modernisation of Australia’s biosecurity systems.
“The commitment would ensure adequate long-term funding for the national biosecurity system, targeting risk-creating activities and communication to give our trading partners confidence in Australia’s pest and disease-free status,” Mahar says. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the wrecking ball effect a biosecurity outbreak can have.”