Spike in illegal cactus imports prickles biosecurity officers

​Staff at our mail centres and airports have been bristled by a sharp increase in the number of cacti and succulent interceptions, with nearly the same number seized in the first half of year as the entirety of 2016.

Head of biosecurity operations at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nico Padovan, said the import of plants and plant products could introduce foreign plant pests and diseases that could be harmful to Australia’s environment, agriculture and economy.

“It is alarming that as of 18 July there have already been 318 cacti and succulent interceptions in 2017—86 at international airports and 232 at mail facilities,” Mr Padovan said.*

“This is compared to 2016 where there were 417 interceptions in total for the whole year—144 at airports and 273 at mail centres.

“If the trend continues, this year's numbers will be surpassed.

“The increase is more than likely due to the recent popularity of cacti and succulents for use in interior decorating. Since January 2017, 48 per cent of the live plant interceptions referred to Enforcement have been succulents or cacti imported via the mail.

“These spikey succulents might seem harmless but they do pose a risk to our nation’s plant health—and could harbour serious weeds, pests or diseases not present in this country threatening Australia’s natural environment, our food security and economy.

“Any dirt still present could also contain seeds of unwanted plants and weeds that could devastate our agricultural industries and native vegetation if they were to become established.

“Cactus and succulents are known hosts for a number of exotic pests and diseases including a deadly plant bacteria called Xylella fastidiosa which if established, has the potential to devastate a large number of common plant species in Australia and would be almost impossible to eradicate.

“As well as carrying exotic pests and plant diseases, imported plants also have the potential to become weeds in Australia.

“The economic cost of naturalised weed species to Australian agriculture is estimated to be over $4 billion annually and the environmental cost is also very high, with invasive species second only to land clear as a leading cause of global biodiversity loss.

“Given the high biosecurity risk associated with importing plant material and the potential implications for Australia, it is illegal to import cacti and succulents from overseas without a valid import permit.

“The maximum penalty for illegal importation of plants under the Biosecurity Act 2015 is currently a monetary penalty of $63,000 and five years’ imprisonment.

“We take Australia’s biosecurity seriously. Buying succulents and cacti online and having them sent through the mail or bringing them in through airports is a big no-no that might land you in a thorny situation!”

For more information on legally importing live plants into Australia visit agriculture.gov.au/import/goods/plant-products/how-to-import-plants.

* Due to an error the statistics have been amended and encompass 1 January to 30 September 2017.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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