One bad apple can upset Melbourne’s biosecurity cart

Passengers arriving in Melbourne airport are still ignoring biosecurity messages with the numbers of contraband items seized at the airport in 2016 up 13 per cent from the previous twelve months.

Head of biosecurity operations at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nico Padovan, said the rise in risk items was a real concern because of the critical importance biosecurity plays in Australia.

“Biosecurity is an ongoing battle on a number of fronts evidenced by the more than 51,000 items seized due to biosecurity concerns at the Melbourne airport in 2016,” Mr Padovan said.

“One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of pests and diseases making it to Australia is to ensure incoming passengers don’t bring in goods that are potential carriers of such threats. They need to think about it when they are packing.

“Things like diseased bananas, apples and oranges can present real risks to our horticulture industry.

“With nearly 15,000 fruit and fruit products seized it is clear people are either complacent, unaware of the risks or being deliberately deceptive.

“The strict controls are in place for a reason. They are critical to protecting not only our human health, but also our agricultural industries, environment and economy.

“The risks are real. Something like fruit fly, a significant horticultural pest, has the potential to cripple Australia’s multi-billion dollar horticulture export industry.”

Horticulture exports reached record levels of $2.7 billion in 2015–16, and are forecast to continue to increase to $3.3 billion in 2021–22, supported by new and improved market access.

“An outbreak of fruit fly would not only reduce yields but also the marketability of stock, because many of Australia’s horticulture export markets require produce be sourced from fruit fly free areas, or to be treated to minimise the risk of transmission,” Mr Padovan said.

“The impact of such an outbreak would not only be felt by growers and producers but by consumers as well which highlights why biosecurity is a shared responsibility.

“While there was also an increase in the volume of fruits, grains, legumes and nuts seized (18,429 items during 2016), of even more concern was the increase in meat products seized.

“A disease like foot and mouth that isn’t present in Australia can be carried here by a passenger bringing in a meat product – which is why we’re so concerned about the increase in the number of meat products we’re seizing.

“All passengers entering Australia need to think about the risk they’re posing to Australia when they pack their bags.

“My advice is leave it behind—most delicacies, including meat, seafood and fruit are available for sale in Australia.”

Items seized at the Melbourne Airport in 2016 included:

  • 12,381 items of meat, an 18% increase from 2015.
  • 555 items of seafood, a 91% increase from 2015
  • 14,997 pieces of fruit or fruit products, a 13% increase from 2015
  • 900 items of herbs and spices, a 42% increase from 2015

“If served food on the plane leave it on the plane, or potentially face an on-the-spot fine of $360,” Mr Padovan said.

“Melbourne isn’t the only airport to have increased seizures in 2016. We seized 273,000 items of biosecurity concern across Australia’s international airports in 2016, up by more than 6 per cent from 2015.

“Biosecurity officers are using the best science, analysis and intelligence available and actively target deliberate concealment and non-compliance with Australia’s biosecurity laws.

“The onus is on people to do the right thing—think about what is being packed and if unsure check agriculture.gov.au, fill out the Incoming Passenger Cards correctly, declare everything honestly and leave plane food on the plane, especially fruit.”

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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