Keeping biosecurity risks out of the nation’s capital

A painted coconut face, large mushrooms and a pine cone kiwi bird wearing a Santa hat arrive at Canberra Airport—there’s no punchline here though, just a series of biosecurity risks seized in the first six months of international flights.

Head of biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Lyn O’Connell, said that almost 1400 biosecurity risk items had been seized since the flights began in September last year and called on travellers to play their part in protecting the nation from these risks.

“Our biosecurity work at Canberra Airport ensures that international passengers are not bringing in risk items that could be harbouring harmful pests or diseases present in other countries,” Ms O’Connell said.

“Pests and diseases that are not present in Australia could seriously impact our unique environment, agriculture industries and our plant, animal and human health status.

“For instance, if passengers bring in an apple it could carry pests like fruit fly, which could seriously damage our $556 million apple industry and more broadly our horticulture industry that is worth more than $9 billion.

“Biosecurity pests such as fruit fly can affect a range of produce, could reduce market access and profits for our farmers and increase their production costs.

“The arrival of international flights means maintaining biosecurity vigilance is increasingly important for Canberra, as the capital is exposed to a range of potentially new risks.

“So far, the most seized items at Canberra airport have been footwear and sporting and recreational equipment, which was contaminated with soil or plant material.

“We have also had a lot of passengers bring in fruit, beef, spices, bark and seeds, which have been seized by our biosecurity officers.

“All of these items are a biosecurity risk because they could be carrying harmful plant pests and diseases that have the potential to adversely affect our plant health and environment.

“Our biosecurity officers do a great job in screening and assessing the risk these items pose and this demonstrates the value and importance of our biosecurity work at Canberra Airport.”

International passengers travelling to Canberra must declare any items containing certain food, plant (including wood) and animal material on the incoming passenger card. Failure to declare biosecurity items can lead to infringement penalties and serious prosecution.

In 2015-16, the department screened 4.1 million passengers at Australian international airports, intercepting 270,000 biosecurity risk items and issuing 3700 Quarantine Infringement Notices to passengers.

It has been estimated that Australia’s biosecurity system saves the average farmer up to $17,500 per year, through avoiding costs and losses associated with biosecurity incursions.

For more information on what can and can’t be brought to Australia, visit Travelling or sending goods to Australia

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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