Biosecurity Matters, Edition 3, 2019

​​​​​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.

Comply with laws or pay the price

Australian biosecurity is here to protect our agricultural industries.

If you are caught breaking Australia’s biosecurity rules, you will be punished.

That is the message a judge sent when he handed down a hefty sentence to individuals who bypassed our border controls and smuggled in pig semen.

An investigation saw two men and a company convicted of unlawful importation offences in the Perth District Court in August.

The penalties for the offenders included jail time of up to 3 years for the men and a fine of $500,000 for the company.

The judge deemed the punishment a deterrent to others who choose to disregard our biosecurity laws.

‘Australian biosecurity is here to protect our agricultural industries,’ head of biosecurity Lyn O’Connell said.


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‘Blatant breaches of our biosecurity laws are taken seriously and can attract significant penalties, including imprisonment.

‘This sentencing shows that the Australian Government is effective in undertaking investigations and working with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to gain convictions,’ said Ms O’Connell.

Illegal imports can introduce exotic diseases. These diseases would have a significant impact on our animal health and production, and we could lose access to overseas markets for our products.

Australia has measures in place to prevent an incursion but biosecurity is everyone’s business.

‘While most people do the right thing, those caught seeking to deliberately evade biosecurity controls will be punished.’ said Ms O’Connell.

Check what can and can't be brought into Australia. If unsure, just declare it.

Find out more about Australia’s biosecurity.


New tricks: retraining our dogs to detect exotic stink bugs

Kyndall Christie and Asha training to screen cars for brown marmorated stink bugs.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Our biosecurity officers have been working with researchers at the University of New England to retrain biosecurity detector dogs to detect brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB)—an exotic insect that can arrive in Australia on cargo and in containers.

If established here, BMSB could severely impact our agricultural industries as they feed on, and severely damage, fruit and vegetable crops, rendering them unsellable or reducing production yields.

Adult BMSB can also be a nuisance, entering vehicles, homes and factories en masse for shelter over winter.

Head of our Biosecurity Detector Dog Program Jessica Mitchell said we are looking to modernise our existing detector dog capabilities to combat the growing threat of exotic plant pests.


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‘Biosecurity detector dogs have been helping protect Australia from pests and diseases since 1992, but they only currently screen for biosecurity risks in airline traveller and mail pathways,’ said Ms Mitchell.

‘The success of the BMSB detector dog research means we can deploy our existing detector dog capability to better protect Australia from a broader range of biosecurity threats.

‘As part of this project, we’ve trialled detector dog screening for incoming sea cargo in Brisbane, which is a first for biosecurity in Australia,’ Ms Mitchell said.

The next step in this research is to find chemical similarities between groups of risk material to make our detector dog training more effective.

‘The dogs naturally generalise across some scents.

‘We can train a dog to respond to the scent of an apple and, without ever being exposed to a banana, most dogs will then also respond to the scent of banana,’ said Ms Mitchell.

‘By specifically identifying the chemical compounds the dogs detect in risk material, we can train novice dogs faster and allow rapid response training for our existing fleet to meet seasonal or emerging risk materials or pests.’

Follow our Facebook page to stay up-to-date with our detector dog work.


Check out Australia’s new biosecurity website

Biosecurity.gov.au will be a central hub for Australia’s biosecurity information.

The Australian Government, state and territory governments, industry and environmental groups are building a new national biosecurity website which will be a central hub for Australia’s biosecurity information.

The decision to develop the new national website follows a recent Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity review.

The beta site, beta.biosecurity.gov.au, lets users get involved in the website’s development.

Data and feedback collected during the beta will shape the final website.

The final biosecurity.gov.au website will be released when we are confident it meets user needs.


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Head of biosecurity Lyn O’Connell said the website is vital in providing biosecurity information to a wide range of stakeholders, including state and territory agencies, industry, environmental groups, research bodies and other government agencies.

‘You can be one of the first to explore beta.biosecurity.gov.au—your feedback will help us understand what does and doesn’t work across the site to build a better service,’ Ms O’Connell said.

‘You can discover information about how to reduce biosecurity risks and how to report a concern.

‘The website is being developed based on personas, ranging from a beekeeper to a boat owner, an international traveller to a primary producer, and an animal owner to someone wanting to manage a pest or weed.’

Visit beta.biosecurity.gov.au and provide feedback to help us improve the site.


Strict biosecurity protocols for imported grain

Biosecurity officers inspecting the first Canadian wheat shipment arrival in June.

With drought across parts of eastern Australia affecting the availability of locally-grown grain, some are turning to overseas options to ensure an ongoing supply of grain.

The Department of Agriculture issued the first permit to an Australian company to import bulk wheat from Canada in mid-May, with the shipment arriving onshore a month later. By the end of July, five permits had been issued to the same company.

A further 9 applications to import bulk canola, wheat, corn and sorghum from the USA and Canada are still being considered by the department.

This is the fourth time that Australia has imported bulk grain to address potential shortages of certain grain classes on the domestic market.


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Livestock producers rely on steady supplies of the same stockfeed, as sudden dietary changes can lead to production losses and animal deaths.

Others, such as millers, require a continuous supply of high protein grain to keep production running to prevent a loss of trade and market access.

Head of Plant Biosecurity Marion Healy said that while an importer may have a clear business need to source grain from overseas, the department’s overriding concern is ensuring that any imports don’t compromise Australia’s vital biosecurity status.

‘Before we allow the import, we must be confident that all plant and animal health biosecurity risks along the entire import pathway—from the farm to the processing facility in Australia—can be reduced to a very low level,’ Dr Healy said.

‘This appropriate level of protection (ALOP) ensures we’re protecting our industries, the environment and our way of life, while ensuring that trade can happen.

‘Each application must undergo thorough assessments and auditing to ensure that the importer has measures in place to manage the risks at every step of the import pathway.

‘We will visit the source country to verify the presence, or absence of pests of concern, pest control practices, and the systems in place for the production, harvesting, storing and transporting of grain destined for export.

‘We also audit the proposed facilities, systems and processes onshore in Australia to verify that the biosecurity risks associated with the imported grain can be managed.

‘We test the onshore part of the import pathway using domestic grain to verify it is working. 

‘If, after our assessments and auditing, we are not satisfied that the applicant’s management strategies can reduce the biosecurity risks to an acceptable level, we will not allow the grain to be imported to Australia.

‘Any permits we issue will include conditions that the importer must meet to ensure cleanliness and control any spillage and dust during transport, storage or processing.

‘They must also have contingency plans in place in case of unexpected events.

‘We require the exporting government to certify requirements have been met prior to export and we keep a close watch over the process once the grains have arrived in Australia.

‘If we have any concerns along the way, we may require the activity to be stopped or done differently. We can also suspend, vary or cancel the permit at any time,’ Dr Healy emphasised.

Learn more about Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements for imported grain.

You can also learn about our Appropriate Level of Protection.


Izzy snags a pear of bags at Sydney Airport

Izzy the biosecurity detector dog uncovers undeclared fruit, vegetables and meat at Sydney airport.

One passenger recently arriving at Sydney International Airport had a dog-of-a-day after being detected with two bags loaded with over ten kilos of undeclared and illegally imported fruit and meat products by Izzy the biosecurity detector dog. 

Izzy was doing some routine sniffing when she responded to a passenger’s bag and our officers soon found what had caught her nose:

  • almost eight kilos of nashi pears
  • two kilos of oranges
  • 325 grams of chicken meat
  • more than two kilos of pork products that included pig meat, sausages and trotters.

A further search revealed another 650 grams of nashi pears in the second bag.


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Australia’s head of biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, warned that the passenger had put Australia at risk, as meat products can carry a range of diseases including African swine fever (ASF) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

‘There is no excuse if you bring these or other biosecurity risk items to Australia.

‘Either leave them at home or declare them at the border.

‘If FMD arrived in Australia, it would cost our economy billions and take a decade to eradicate. Fragments of FMD and ASF were recently detected in pork products intercepted at Australia’s airports and mail centres—the risk is very real.

‘The fresh fruit in their bag could have been harbouring diseases and pests like citrus canker or fruit fly which could devastate Australia’s horticulture industries.

‘If these diseases were to become established here Australians would start seeing less of the fruit they love on grocery shelves including oranges, apples and pears.’ Ms O’Connell said.

The goods were destroyed and the passenger was issued with an infringement notice.

‘Our dogs do a great job sniffing out potential risk items, but every passenger that travels to Australia has an obligation to follow the rules.

‘It saves you time and money while keeping our country free of deadly pests and diseases.

‘Before travelling, find out what you can and can’t bring into Australia. Remember, don’t be sorry, just declare it,’ Ms O’Connell said.

Find out more about travelling or sending goods to Australia.


Quaint name, serious business

Exercise Crown and Anchor staff in action.

Mention Crown and Anchor and you immediately envisage having a convivial pint at a quaint pub in the English Cotswolds.

But in this particular instance, Crown and Anchor takes on a much more serious nature.

It was the name given to a major biosecurity emergency response exercise held in Canberra in March this year.

Members of the National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT), comprising of trained and experienced staff from agricultural agencies in all states and territories, were given fictitious scenarios of either a varroa mite detection in the Jervis Bay Territory or a red imported fire ant detection on the grounds of Canberra International Airport.


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NBRT members, working with representatives from our department, the ACT Government and industry, determined how to effectively and rapidly respond under each scenario.

Senior Biosecurity Communication Officer Georgie Harris participated in the Public Information function.

‘We conducted activities which would be normally undertaken in a Local Control Centre during an actual response,’ Georgie said.

‘The aim of the exercise was to improve the national ability to respond to these serious pests, with the added complexity of working within Commonwealth Territories and the utilisation of the Biosecurity Act 2015 for a post-border biosecurity response.’

Participants visited relevant sites within the ACT to gain an appreciation of the elements involved in the scenarios. This included the ACT Government emergency operation centres, the grounds surrounding Canberra International Airport and Canberra City Farm where they were provided with a demonstration of honey bee hive surveillance.

‘Benefits from the exercise include an improved response capability for NBRT members and a contribution towards an agreed policy for responding to biosecurity incidents in Commonwealth Territorial jurisdictions,’ Georgie said.

Find out more about the National Biosecurity Response Team.


Passenger slip-up could cost banana industry

Banana corms can harbour damaging fungal growth.

Vigilant work from our biosecurity officers at Brisbane Airport has prevented live plants with signs of a devastating banana disease from entering the country and threatening our banana industry.

Head of biosecurity Lyn O’Connell said the plants showed showed symptoms of Panama disease, caused by a species of Fusarium.

‘Panama disease is present in Australia, but if it was to spread beyond its current restricted distribution it could seriously damage our banana industry.

‘All fresh bananas available in Australia are grown in Australia—if this disease was to get a hold of our local crops, we would see less bananas on our supermarket shelves, and a hefty price point as a result.

‘One way it could spread is by passengers bringing infected plant material in through the airport,’ Ms O’Connell said.


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A passenger arrived at Brisbane Airport with empty water bottles containing two banana corms that showed fungal growth with roots and soil attached.

‘The passenger did the right thing and declared the plants on their Incoming Passenger Card but they never should have brought them here in the first place.

‘The plants were sent to our pathology team who identified a Fusarium species, but they also identified the potential for it to have been the Panama disease pathogen,’ Ms O’Connell explained.

The Panama disease pathogen infects the roots of banana plants and then chokes the plant’s water supply, eventually killing it.

The fungus survives in the soil for decades and prevents the growth of new banana plants.

Panama disease Tropical Race 4 is the most damaging strain because it can attack nearly all known banana varieties.

There is no cure for Panama disease—preventing and controlling the movement of risk material is the only way to deal with the disease.

Understandably, the plants were promptly destroyed to ensure they did not pose an ongoing risk to the Australian banana industry.

‘If you are travelling to Australia, make sure you are aware of items that should not be brought with you,’ Ms O’Connell stressed.

Find out more about what you can and can’t bring to Australia.


PIC@PEQ: innovation in action

Herbicide trials to assess the impact on cut flowers.

Our Plant Innovation Centre at the Post-Entry Quarantine Facility (PIC@PEQ) has recently been reenergised with a new team of dedicated scientists tasked with finding solutions to biosecurity challenges, improving operational outcomes and increasing efficiencies.

Head of Plant Import Operations Dr Robyn Cleland pointed out a number of important developments the centre has recently achieved.

 ‘Already this year, the PIC@PEQ team have actively investigated several new concepts such as:

  • using low-dose gamma irradiation to treat seed and plant material to prevent propagation
  • trialling new herbicides to treat imported cut flowers
  • testing new ‘point-and-shoot’ smart phone apps for insect identification
  • developing a new method to test cut-flowers to ensure they have received mandated offshore treatments
  • collaborating on a project with Agriculture Victoria, Queensland University of Technology, Horticulture Innovation Australia and New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries to improve plant industry access with faster and more accurate diagnostics using Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS)
  • developing new student engagement guidelines to collaborate with tertiary institutes and host students to undertake novel research with the department.

‘If you have a plant biosecurity issue you need assistance with, get in touch with the PIC@PEQ team to discuss if we can help you find solutions,’ Dr Cleland said.

You can email the PIC@PEQ team at: PICteam@agriculture.gov.au



App helps identify bad butterflies and misbehaving moths

The new Lepidopteran Families of Biosecurity Concern app uses ground-breaking technology to assist in the surveillance of exotic biosecurity threats.

Biosecurity staff need to be able to quickly differentiate between exotic and local species. However, exotic species often require a lot of time by specialists to diagnose.
 
To overcome this issue, preliminary identification to higher taxonomic levels (diagnostic ‘triage’) can provide a means of screening specimens before submitting them to specialists for further identification.

This reduces the number of non-exotic specimens sent in for specialist identification which in turn saves specialists’ valuable time and resources.

Lepidoptera are an important group of insects (predominately butterflies and moths) that contain many established and exotic pest species.


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Australia has a huge diversity of Lepidoptera but only a minor proportion of these are of economic importance.

Stacey Anderson, a Darwin entomologist with our Science and Surveillance Group, said distinguishing exotic pests from local pests and also from local, non-pest species is critical to early warning programs.

‘The majority of pest species of biosecurity concern to Australia are limited to a small number of families, so a means of recognising these families should help in prioritising specimens,’ Stacey said.

‘Family-level identification is problematic, as existing diagnostic keys to adults often rely on characters not visible without specialist dissection.

‘Many keys lack definitive images of the characters and this can leave users guessing about character states or needing to refer to other texts to clarify the status,’ she added.

To assist in the rapid identification of Lepidoptera established in Australia, the department has developed the Lepidopteran Families of Biosecurity Concern app using an interactive Lucid3 key for iPhone, Android and desktop devices.

‘The app has been developed to assist in identifying to family-level all Lepidoptera of biosecurity concern’, Stacey said.

‘It uses external morphological characters of adult specimens which can be observed under a stereomicroscope and do not require dissection or damage to the specimens.

‘The key provides high quality micrographs of all character states used to determine if a specimen is of biosecurity concern to Australia.’

‘The app is just another example of how we are using ground-breaking technology to assist in the surveillance of exotic biosecurity threats,’ Stacey concluded.

Lepidopteran Families of Biosecurity Concern is available at no cost via Google play/app store or lucidcentral.org


Biosecurity emergency preparedness workshop hones our skills

Representatives at the biosecurity emergency future visions workshop discussing preparedness gaps and opportunities.

With passenger movements, mail and trade volumes set to double by 2025, our management of biosecurity risks is becoming increasingly complex.

Enhancing and taking part in preparedness efforts is a key element in keeping Australia’s biosecurity system strong.

Acting head of Biosecurity Policy and Response, Karina Keast, said the department is collaborating with the states and territories, through the National Biosecurity Emergency Preparedness Expert Group, to identify national future priorities for biosecurity emergency preparedness.

‘This engagement, which is well underway, will contribute to a nationally agreed understanding of biosecurity preparedness through analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and/or threats to identify gaps and opportunities,’ Ms Keast said.


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‘We also hosted our own strategic workshop in July aimed to support this work.

‘All biosecurity areas participated by analysing current investments in biosecurity emergency preparedness activities and identifying a shared vision of the future.’

At the workshop, representatives from across the department shared ideas for preparedness policy, training, exercising, planning, resourcing and evaluation.

They were also asked to reflect on recent responses and exercises, and on the learnings highlighted by these experiences.

Participants also shared their experience in preventative investments, the continued need for research and adopting innovations, industry and community engagement and improving reporting mechanisms to achieve desired response outcomes.

Other areas highlighted included opportunities around decision-making processes and increasing awareness and appreciation for preparedness activities to develop a broader departmental response capability and capacity.

‘These discussions will form part of a national direction and lead to a set of departmental biosecurity emergency preparedness priorities,’ Ms Keast said.

‘This will provide a roadmap for continued collaboration and participation in the department’s preparedness activities and at a national level.’

Find out more about National Biosecurity Emergency Preparedness.


Modernising Australia's agricultural trade goes hand-in-hand with a strong biosecurity system

GrainCorp Authorised Officer inspecting product for export.

Every year Aussie producers send more than two thirds of their goods overseas (ABARES 2019). These agricultural exports are worth $47.6 billion dollars in 2018-19 and they help to drive our economy.

The Modernising Agricultural Trade (MAT) initiative is an Australian government investment which aims to improve how we regulate our agricultural trade, with an emphasis on updating the systems that support it.

An initial investment of $32.4 million in MAT over four years will begin the process.

The three focus areas for this investment are:

  • protecting Australia’s ‘clean and green’ brand.
  • support for exporters, through improved export information and documentation.
  • further planning for new digital systems.

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Head of the MAT taskforce, Matt Ryan, said assembling a team and investing in this initiative is the start of long-term changes to the way we regulate Australia's agricultural exports.

‘Despite significant drought, the value of farm production remains high,’ Mr Ryan said.

‘The government’s investment in agricultural trade will give greater confidence to our primary producing sectors.
‘Our trading partners also take their biosecurity as seriously as we do.

‘A modern system will provide assurance to importing markets and protect Australia’s valuable reputation as a clean and green supplier of agricultural traded goods,’ he said.

International trade is increasing: ships, planes and people are moving in increasing volumes across international and state borders.

This means there is more pressure than ever on our biosecurity surveillance and response systems.

Regulating agricultural trade, is one of the key reasons why we invest in biosecurity—to support Australia’s agricultural producers to increase productivity and access markets.

Find out more about the initiative.


White Papers deliver strong biosecurity outcomes in the north

The Agricultural Competitiveness and Developing Northern Australia white papers have helped to expand the Indigenous ranger program.

The investment of $200 million provided through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper and the Developing Northern Australia White Paper to improve Australia’s national biosecurity system has now come to an end.

Head of Biosecurity Operations Emily Canning said the investment has resulted in exciting and innovative projects to enhance our biosecurity capability, including a range of initiatives supporting improved biosecurity across northern Australia.

‘This funding has enabled the establishment of closer ties between Australian Government agencies, state government agencies and industry to enhance biosecurity collaboration and surveillance measures as well as improving data on new and emerging biosecurity risk pathways,’ Ms Canning said.

‘I am particularly pleased with our work in expanding opportunities for Indigenous rangers to provide services supporting effective biosecurity.


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‘This has seen additional northern Australia ranger groups provide contracted biosecurity services and dramatic improvements in equipment and training provided to ranger groups to enhance their capability to contribute to biosecurity operations.

‘Increasing the public’s awareness of biosecurity has also been a high priority.

‘We have been extremely fortunate to secure the services of high profile individuals such as Costa the Garden Gnome, Dirtgirl and others in developing communication products to raise awareness about practical measures for industry and the community to assist the biosecurity effort. 

‘The department is dedicated to enhancing our data collection systems and has used the available White Paper funding to improve capability.

‘A notable achievement in this regard is the award-winning Ranger App which enables real-time data reporting by Indigenous Rangers.

‘Similarly, the Torres Strait Information System supports improved risk-based biosecurity regulation in Torres Strait.

‘The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper has been a big program of work for a diverse range of contributors from the Australian Government and state and territory agencies, industry participants, non-government sector organisations and community representatives.

‘I’d like to acknowledge the immense effort our staff have undertaken to help deliver these initiatives in collaboration with each other, and key external stakeholders,’ Ms Canning said.

‘These results attest to the passion and hard work of all involved and we will continue to see the benefits of these programs for years to come.

‘Having said that, this is not the end of the story—far from it.

‘We have ongoing funding allowing the department to further develop our outstanding Indigenous Ranger program and many of the projects funded under the White Papers have been designed to take on a life of their own, essentially continuing the vital biosecurity work we undertake across the north,’ Ms Canning concluded.

The Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness and Developing Northern Australia white papers were the government’s plan for stronger farmers, a stronger economy and a safe and secure Australia.


Trip to Oz goes from bag to wurst

High-risk food items like pork sausages can carry devastating diseases like foot and mouth disease and African Swine Fever.

An overseas passenger was caught at Perth Airport with a range of undeclared, high-risk food items including 900 grams of pork sausages, 290 grams of pork jerky and 80 grams of fresh fruit.

‘Many items you bring to Australia could harbour pests or diseases and should be left at home,’ said Lyn O’Connell, Australia's head of biosecurity.

‘Pork products are especially concerning because they can carry diseases including foot and mouth disease and African Swine Fever. Both of these diseases have been previously detected in pork products we intercepted at international airports.

‘Similarly, fruit could carry pests like fruit fly which is a significant threat to our horticulture industries and trade,’ Ms O’Connell said.


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The undeclared food items were destroyed and the passenger was issued an infringement notice.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers made the initial detection and referred the passenger to biosecurity officers.

We work closely with the ABF to enforce biosecurity measures at Australia’s international airports.

‘If you are travelling to Australia, make sure you’re aware of items that should not be brought with you—passengers who deliberately break our biosecurity rules should also be on notice that they could have their visas cancelled under changes to Australia’s immigration law,’ Ms O’Connell stressed.

Find out more about what you can and can’t bring to Australia.


Biosecurity enthusiasts Costa Georgiadis and Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox at the 2019 Australian Biosecurity Symposium

Costa Georgiadis (left) and Andrew Cox (right).

Find out more about the Australian Biosecurity Symposium.



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