The recent media coverage of the destruction of herbaria specimens being imported by the Queensland Herbarium serves as a timely reminder of the importance of Australia’s biosecurity requirements.
Plant and animal materials could harbour exotic pests and diseases that could damage Australia’s unique flora and fauna, our communities and our $59 billion agricultural industries.
The department acknowledges the significance of these specimens as a botanical reference collection, and their destruction was an unfortunate and regrettable outcome—however, it is one that could easily have been avoided had the package been sent with the required import documentation.
To protect Australia from potentially devastating biosecurity risks, there are special requirements that apply to the import of any items containing plant or animal materials.
Members of the public should avoid bringing plant or animal materials in through the mail, as there are biosecurity requirements that must be met.
However, special items—like museum specimens or other cultural and historical artefacts—need special handling, and the department facilitates the safe importation of many such items each year.
In the case of herbarium specimens, they are required to be free from pests, have a declaration to say what they are and be labelled so they can be detected amongst the vast numbers of mail items Biosecurity Officers screen every day.
In the case of the specimens destined for the Queensland Herbarium, there was no prior notification of the package’s arrival or its significance, and it was sent in the regular mail, wrapped in nondescript brown paper, with a declared value of $2 and no special markings to indicate its importance.
This meant that there was nothing to distinguish it as unique amongst the 138 million mail items Biosecurity Officers screen every year—until a sniffer dog identified it as containing items that could pose a potential biosecurity risk.
Import conditions for herbarium specimens are important in order to protect Australia’s unique flora and fauna, our communities and our $59 billion agricultural industries from potentially devastating exotic pests and diseases.
The department has met with representatives from Managers of the Australasian Herbarium Collections to review this incident and assist herbaria representatives in understanding and complying with Australia’s import conditions.
The department is also undertaking a comprehensive review of this incident and has revised processes to minimise the risk of a re-occurance.
This is a timely reminder that when sending items through the mail, goods which may present a biosecurity risk must comply with Australian import conditions. Breaching Australian biosecurity laws can result in penalties including fines and prosecution.