Biosecurity Matters, Edition 3, 2017

​​​Biosecurity Matters

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Biosecurity is the management of the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia and causing harm to animals, plants or human health, the economy, the environment and the community.

Pest and disease notifications rise to more than 120

Department Secretary Daryl Quinlivan addresses staff about pest and disease notifications and other biosecurity challenges.

The department handled more than 120 pest and disease notifications in 2016, revealing the large number of biosecurity risks confronting our nation.

Department Secretary Daryl Quinlivan told an all-staff address of the extent of work being done in response to disease and pest notifications.

“I think a lot of people are not aware of the number of notifications we handle at one time,” Mr Quinlivan said.

Examples of biosecurity incidents notified to the department in 2016 alone include:

  • Red imported fire ant at Brisbane airport
  • Browsing ant in Darwin
  • Macao paper wasp in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  • Khapra beetle in South Australia
  • Russian wheat aphid in South Australia
  • White spot disease of prawns in south-east Queensland.

Continue reading about pest and disease notifications

“Some of these receive a lot of public scrutiny and deserve to,” Mr Quinlivan said. “But these incidents don’t mean that we are not managing the biosecurity risk well – our import controls and surveillance are improving and they need to while global trade patterns are changing.”

This requires the department to work closely with state and territory governments to respond to pests and diseases affecting their region.

“The detection and rapid response to incursions show that our systems are largely working and our people, and those who work with us, are committed to the task,” Mr Quinlivan said.

The high volume of people and range of goods coming into Australia makes this an ongoing challenge. Over the past year, the department:

  • processed 19 million international travellers
  • checked 138 million mail items
  • inspected 14,000 international vessels
  • identified 25,000 pests and diseases
  • spent 151,000 hours scrutinising cargo and conducting 12,000 annual audits.

While we work hard to stop pests and diseases at the border, Mr Quinlivan said it was not possible to stop everything at all times.

“That’s why we need strong post-border arrangements with states, territories and industry to respond rapidly when incursions happen,” he said.

Pests pester pastoralists - a thorny problem surveyed

Feral pigs are one of Queensland’s most widespread and damaging pests, with an estimated population of 4–6 million.

When it comes to farm pests in Australia, feral deer are seen as a big problem by farmers in Victoria, while feral pigs are reported as more problematic by Queensland land managers.

Deer and pigs are just two of the invasive pest animal species being managed by 80 per cent of Australian agricultural businesses, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences’ (ABARES) Pest animal and Weed Management Survey: National landholder survey results, released in May.

Conducted this year, the survey captured the views of 6,470 agricultural land managers about pest and weed management on their property and local area.

The survey — part of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper’s $50 million four-year Established Pest Animals and Weeds Measure — provides landholders and communities with information about the benefits of pests and weed management compared with the costs of inaction.

ABARES’ analysis of its results showed that 25 per cent of the farmers who took part had major weed problems, including weeds of national significance.

Continue reading about pests pester pastoralists

Agricultural businesses are spending a significant amount of time and money on managing these pest animals and weeds, with an average of $19,620 spent over the past 12 months on control, which includes expenditure on traps, baits, pesticides/insecticides, herbicide, fuel, fencing materials and labour.

In addition, an average of 77 person days per business were spent on pest animal and weed control activities.

In terms of impacts, pest animals and weeds were reportedly contributing to a range of crop damage, decreased livestock production, damage to property and infrastructure, poisoned stock, blocked water courses and an increased fire risk.

Most respondents said they wanted better control technologies and access to information on pest management.

The good news is that help is on the way — the Australian Government is working to provide better control options and in May, announced that 23 projects would share in $10.5 million funding under the Control Tools and Technologies for Established Pest Animals and Weeds Programme.

Projects include automated traps, weed spraying robots and thermal sensors.

ABARES will invite land managers to join a follow-up survey in 2018-19.

Visit the ABARES website to read the full survey report and access its data via an interactive dashboard.

Get ready for Stage 2 of biosecurity legislation

Stage 2 of implementation of the Biosecurity Act 2015, which replaces the Quarantine Act 1908, is underway.

It’s been one year since Australia started operating under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which replaced the Quarantine Act 1908.

The transition to the new Act has been a smooth one, with industry reporting they were well prepared for the changes.

The Act modernises our regulatory framework, and is designed to provide flexibility to respond to changes in biosecurity risk and our global trading environment. It also promotes government and industry sharing responsibility for Australia’s biosecurity.

Assistant Secretary for Biosecurity Implementation Lee Cale said the department made a deliberate decision to rollout out only those provisions that were critical to operations in the first year.

“We wanted to ensure a smooth transition for our clients and staff, and allow industry time to adjust their business practices,” Ms Cale said.

Continue reading about stage 2 of biosecurity legislation

“This year we continue implementation with Stage 2, which involves a number of delayed, transitional and phased legislative provisions for ballast water management, phasing in onshore and emergency powers, expanding the use of infringement notices, and defining how industry partners operate under the Biosecurity Act 2015.

“A variety of communication and stakeholder engagement activities have been undertaken and will continue in the lead up to implementation of these delayed provisions to ensure people and industries that are impacted understand any changes, and are ready for them to commence.”

“One milestone is 8 September 2017, when Australia’s new ballast water management legislation, the Biosecurity Amendment (Ballast Water and Other Measures) Act 2017, comes into force.

“This legislation implements the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (the Ballast Water Management Convention).

“Australia ratified the Ballast Water Management Convention on 7 June 2017, which comes into force in Australia and internationally on 8 September 2017.

“Ballast water, the water taken in and released from ships for stabilization purposes, has the potential to transfer invasive species around our oceans.”

By implementing the Ballast Water Management Convention, Australia and other Parties to the Convention will contribute to reducing the biosecurity risks posed by ballast water.

The Convention improves biosecurity risk management through the introduction of standards that ballast water must meet before discharge and introduction of consistent plan, survey, certification and recording requirements.

Regional allies join us to fight Australia's top plant pests

Australian and PNG plant health scientists and women from the Buji Treaty Village with the first all women PNG joint survey team before heading into the field for the survey.

Top 40 surveillance fever is spreading across the region, with Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste joining Australia’s fight against the National Priority Plant Pests.

Strengthening biosecurity collaboration and capacity in Australia’s offshore biosecurity environment is a key element of a $200 million Australian Government investment in improving biosecurity surveillance and analysis capability through the $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

Manager of International Surveillance Biosecurity Plant Division Chris Dale said Australia has long placed importance on working with our nearest neighbours to guard against and detect the potential introduction of tropical plant pests and diseases in northern Australia.

“Through the introduction of pre-border surveillance for the ‘top 40’, the range of host plants monitored by departmental scientists has broadened to include temperate crops, such as apples, coffee, and potatoes,” Mr Dale said.

Continue reading about regional allies join us to fight Australia's top plant pests

“Pre-border surveillance and early warning systems are also now in place in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste for ‘hitchhiker’ pests, including the brown marmorated stick bug and exotic bees.”

The department also took the top 40 message direct to Papua New Guinea earlier this year, undertaking the first survey in 17 years of the coastal villages covered by the Torres Strait Treaty, which regulates the movement of goods between PNG and the Australian mainland.

While this survey found many of the target pests or disease were absent from the treaty villages, Mr Dale said there is still a need for regular surveillance activity and community engagement to build capacity for villagers to report changes in animal or plant health.

“The continuation and expansion of these international surveillance and capacity building activities into 2018 will provide Australia with strong information on regional pest status.

“Improved capacity and capability and greater autonomy in plant health surveillance activities amongst our near neighbours will contribute to our White Paper objectives, in building a sustainable regional surveillance system.”

Additional surveys will be held in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste in 2018, as well as surveys in Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories of the Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands.

You can read more about off our offshore animal health surveillance work, also funded under the White Paper, in First sentinel herd in Timor-Leste.

Visiting cavers asked to protect native bats

WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which grows on the skin of infected hibernating bats and can be seen as white powdering growth on the muzzle, ears and wings. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Australia is gearing up to welcome hundreds of cavers to Sydney in July, but not the deadly bat fungus that can be carried on their caving gear.

The International Congress of Speleology is being held in Sydney from 23-29 July 2017, and overseas cavers attending the congress are being asked to help us keep White Nose Syndrome (WNS) out of Australia.

Australia is free of WNS, but the influx of cavers from affected parts of the northern hemisphere is one way it could enter this country. If WNS established in Australia, it could cause widespread disease and death in native bats, including some listed as critically endangered.

WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which grows on the skin of infected hibernating bats and can be seen as white powdering growth on the muzzle, ears and wings. Since it was first identified in New York state in 2006, WNS has caused the deaths of more than 5 million cave-hibernating bats across North America.

Continue reading about visiting cavers asked to protect native bats

The fungus can be spread between caves on clothing, footwear and caving gear. It is thought that this fungus was introduced to North America from Europe by human activities.

First Assistant Secretary Biosecurity Animal Division Tim Chapman said that WNS could have severe consequences for native bats if it established in Australia.

“We are working with congress organisers to ensure the best possible biosecurity arrangements for this event,” Mr Chapman said.

“We are asking all international cavers to leave their used caving equipment and clothing at home and only bring new gear, or take advantage of borrowed caving gear here. Gear is being provided by the congress organisers where possible, so cavers should contact them to find out what is available for the field trips they are attending.”

The fungus causing WNS has been found in many parts of the world, including North America, Europe and China, and may be present in other countries as well.

Mr Chapman asked Australian cavers and those working with hibernating bats to keep watch for possible cases of WNS in Australia.

“Those in the field are our first line of defence in the event of an incursion of this disease,” he said.

“The sooner disease is detected, the better the chances of minimising its impacts on our native wildlife.”

Key signs to look out for are:

  • visible white fungus (particularly on the bat’s nose)
  • mass mortalities of cave-dwelling bats
  • abnormal behaviour, such as bats flying outside during the day.

Any suspected cases should be reported to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

First sentinel herd in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste cattle, like these, will be used to help protect Australia’s livestock industries from exotic diseases in our region.

The department is helping set up the first sentinel cattle herd in Timor-Leste on our northern border, giving Australia more protection against exotic animal disease risks as they emerge in our region.

The Timor-Leste sentinel herd will provide a valuable monitoring tool for the presence of diseases like arboviruses or Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in our northern neighbour. Early detection is a way of helping to protect Australia’s valuable livestock industries and exports.

Advanced warning of diseases will also allow Australia to work collaboratively with Timor-Leste to respond to exotic disease incursions and effectively contain and eradicate outbreaks.

The department negotiated and formalised the arrangement with Timor-Leste, and in collaboration with the Northern Territory Government Department of Primary Industries and Resources, their staff will help train Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries officers in how to collect samples from the herd.

Continue reading about first sentinel herd in Timor-Leste

Herd examination, blood sample and insect trap collections will take place each month. The first samples will be collected shortly and tested in both Timor-Leste and Australia.

This programme will not only boost our biosecurity surveillance and analysis capability, but will also enhance Timor-Leste’s capacity to detect and prevent important endemic and exotic diseases.

The establishment of the sentinel herd will complement the department’s existing monitoring programmes including the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS), the National Arbovirus Monitoring Program (NAMP) and the sentinel herds already established in Papua New Guinea and far north areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Kalumburu in the north of Western Australia.

The Timor-Leste sentinel herd program is part of the Australian Government’s $200 million investment in biosecurity surveillance and analysis under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

You can read more about our offshore plant health surveillance work in Regional allies join us to fight Australia’s top plant pests

Newest detector dogs issued with their L-plates

Our fetching new recruits have nearly graduated from detector dog training.

Our newest recruits, seven Labradors named Ezra, Harmony, Jewell, Juno, Xtra, Yeti and Yuri, are almost through their eight weeks of training to become biosecurity detector dogs.

The training started with the basic commands like “sit” and “stay”, but now the dogs can detect risk items like plant material, fresh meat and different fruits, and are able to differentiate them from other common smells in their work environment.

These trainees might have their “L plates” on for now but soon they will be on the frontline for Australian biosecurity, responsible for detecting high risk biosecurity items. They are off to a promising start — novice dog Jewell surprised her handler by detecting an apple in a passenger’s bag at Brisbane International Airport.

Once they graduate, this new crop of detector dogs will be assigned to their new home ports for duty at a range of airports and mail centres around Australia.

Border finds: Toad found in passenger's shoe

The black spined toad found in a passenger's shoe could be more damaging to Australia than the cane toad.

It’s not unheard of to find unwanted hitchhikers in people’s shoes, if the shoes in question are packed in luggage.

However, it is most unusual to find a black-spined toad inside a passenger’s shoe that is still on the passenger’s foot.

This nasty surprise confronted a passenger who had just arrived at Brisbane airport, where their shoe stopped a detector dog in its tracks. The toad had recently died and was suspected to have been alive when the shoe was put on.

The black spined toad is related to the cane toad which, in Australia, has no natural predators.

This toad is potentially more damaging than the cane toad and could become established in the cooler parts of Australia. Being a carnivore, the black spined toad, or any of the diseases it might have been carrying, could cause significant damage to Australia’s natural environment.

Remember to check your luggage when packing for Australia, and clean any contaminated footwear, equipment or clothing.

Border finds: Seed necklaces not on Australia's wish list

Two necklaces from China recently seized containing dandelion seeds.

Some people wish upon dandelions, but biosecurity officers just wish that they won’t see any more of these dandelion seed necklaces.

Our biosecurity officers detected a parcel arriving from China with two of these necklaces.

The necklaces had seeds inside a glass bulb — a style becoming increasingly popular online.

Regardless of the fact these were never intended for planting, seeds cannot be brought into Australia.

Seeds can be exotic plants or weed species that could become established within Australia. They can also carry exotic plant pests or diseases that could impact the health of Australian natives and our horticulture industry.

In this case the traveller declined to have the goods treated by gamma irradiation, so the necklaces were destroyed.

This serves as a reminder that if you are shopping online, check the source and country from which your order will be sent. For more information on what can and can’t be brought or sent to Australia, visit Travelling or sending goods to Australia.

If you’re a retailer or importer, you can access the Biosecurity Import Conditions System (BICON) to view the biosecurity conditions for importing products into Australia.

If you’re bringing souvenirs or gifts into Australia, you can check what to avoid, what may require treatment, and what we consider a safe option.

Major milestone for measures to strengthen food safety laws

We thank all stakeholders who contributed to the development of the Imported Food Control Amendment Bill 2017 (the Bill), which was recently introduced into the Australian Parliament.

The Bill will strengthen Australia’s imported food safety management system by mandating supply chain assurance for certain types of foods where at border testing alone is insufficient to ensure food safety. Importers of these foods will be required to provide an internationally recognised food safety management certificate, demonstrating food safety controls are in place throughout the supply chain.

Importers will be required to keep records to enable traceability of food one step backward, to the supplier, and one step forward, to the customer.

Australia’s emergency powers have also been broadened to allow food to be held at the border where there is uncertainty about the safety of a particular food.

More information on the measures can be found on the department’s website.

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