Biosecurity Matters, Edition 4, 2017

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Biosecurity Matters turns ten


This is the 10th issue since refreshing this electronic newsletter with a new name and format! We hope you enjoy reading about local alpacas trialling our new ruminant compound at Mickleham, a new publication providing a boost to biosecurity risk research, and seeds arriving from space, to name just a few stories.

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Local alpacas 'road test' new quarantine facility

Alpacas are the most common ruminant expected to come through the Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine facility.

Last month 30 locally sour​ced alpacas checked into the Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility’s new ruminant compound as part of final preparations ahead of the official opening later this year. 

While alpacas are the most common ruminant—a type of mammal with multiple stomachs—expected to come through the Mickleham PEQ facility, other frequently imported stock could include llamas.

PEQ Assistant Director Joanne Langkamp said that this dress rehearsal gave the department’s PEQ staff an opportunity to make sure that the ruminant compound was fit for purpose prior to it accepting imported stock.

“We used the local alpacas to run through the various processes and activities that will be carried out in the compound once it goes live,” Ms Langkamp said.

Continue reading about local alpacas 'road test' new quarantine facility

While the alpacas were initially surprised by their first night under a roof, they soon settled into their new digs and made themselves at home. And it wasn’t long before they started exploring the six large turnout paddocks surrounding the pens.

After spending just under two weeks at the Mickleham PEQ facility, the alpacas returned to their home farm in Northern Victoria. Thanks to their test run, imported ruminants will enjoy a smooth transition through Australia’s post entry quarantine.

Once the Mickleham PEQ facility is fully completed in 2018, it will replace all of the department’s previous quarantine facilities at Eastern Creek in New South Wales, Torrens Island in South Australia and Spotswood in Victoria.

Live animals from overseas could introduce some of the world’s most serious pests and diseases into Australia. Imports of live animals undergo inspection and a period of post entry quarantine on arrival, where our officers monitor their health status to ensure disease risks are eliminated.
You can follow the progress of the Mickleham PEQ facility’s construction and operational commissioning phases at The new Post Entry Quarantine Facility.

Helping government make better biosecurity decisions

CEBRA’s Director Associate Professor Andrew Robinson (third from left) recently introduced Invasive Species: Risk Assessment and Management, a collection of cutting edge biosecurity risk research, at the department’s book launch event Canberra.

Staying at the forefront of biosecurity risk management is a challenging task when trade patterns are changing and new biosecurity threats are constantly emerging.

Biosecurity policy makers and regulators rely on scientific research to protect their borders from invasive pests, diseases and weeds. And biosecurity risk research has just received a major boost, with the release of a new publication.

Researchers from the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) and the department have worked together to release the publication Invasive Species: Risk Assessment and Management.

The publication collates over eight years of world-class biosecurity risk research and is designed to arm government with the scientific solutions to face our greatest biosecurity challenges.

CEBRA’s Director Associate Professor Andrew Robinson said the publication aims to help governments make informed decisions, develop policies and analyse biosecurity risks using state-of-the-art techniques.

Continue reading about helping government make better biosecurity decisions

“A strong biosecurity system is essential to keeping countries like Australia and New Zealand substantially free from exotic pests and diseases and in doing so, assuring the future productivity of our primary industries and protection for our environment,” Associate Professor Robinson said. 

“Climate change and globalisation are changing existing biosecurity risk pathways, as well as opening up new ones.”

“We need to support policy makers and regulators to help them make smarter decisions in line with the rapidly evolving and increasingly complex biosecurity landscape.”

The research in Invasive Species: Risk Assessment and Management spans surveillance, stochastic modelling, intelligence gathering, decision making and risk communication, enabling policy makers and regulators to make better use of all the available scientific solutions.

“While many countries have biosecurity legislation and policies in place, only a few are investing what’s needed — this body of work will help ensure those investments afford the greatest possible protection,” Associate Professor Robinson said. 

CEBRA is a key initiative that the Australian Government supports to manage Australia’s biosecurity system. Its primary goal is to deliver practical solutions and advice for assessing and managing biosecurity risks. Read more about CEBRA’s work.

Rare glimpse into post entry quarantine

Whilst visiting the Post Entry Quarantine facility, the Gardening Australia team got an overview of the importance of biosecurity.

Television audiences will soon have a behind the scenes look at our critical biosecurity work, after the Gardening Australia team visited our Mickleham Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility. Whilst visiting the facility, the team got an overview of the importance of biosecurity, and also filmed our horticulturalists conducting disease testing and grafting imported plants for propagation. The episode is due to air in late September, when you’ll be able to tune in and see our PEQ plant staff in action.

Protecting our industries from a deadly plant pest

A group of delegates at the 2017 International Symposium on Xylella fastidiosa held in Brisbane.

Experts from across the globe recently gathered in Brisbane to share knowledge and strengthen Australia’s defences against one of the world’s most devastating plant pests, Xylella fastidiosa.

International delegates from the USA, France, Italy and Taiwan shared their first-hand experience with the disease and its vectors at the 2017 International Symposium on Xylella fastidiosa.

Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said the exotic Xylella bacterium is our top national priority plant pest because it has the potential to severely impact citrus, grape, olive, peach and plum, nursery stock and forestry industries, along with our native plant species.

“Originating in the Americas, and now present in parts of Europe, Taiwan and Iran, Xylella fastidiosa is a deadly and highly invasive plant pest that has wiped out more than a million ancient olive trees in southern Italy and costs the Californian grape industry an estimated US$104 million per year,” Dr Ritman said.

Continue reading about protecting our industries from a deadly plant pest

“The symposium has boosted our ability to keep this disease offshore, to detect the disease and its vectors — (sap sucking insects known as sharpshooters and spittlebugs) — and our preparedness to respond quickly if it was detected here,” Dr Ritman said.

More than 100 delegates attended from government, industry and research agencies in Australia, along with New Zealand, Japan, Myanmar, Tuvalu, Tonga, Timor-Leste, French Polynesia and Sri Lanka.

“A key message arising from the symposium was the responsibility shared by all Australians, from the general public to producers, in guarding against the risk of Xylella and its vectors,” Dr Ritman said.

“Producers need to be taking proactive measures to identify and report any unusual pest or disease symptoms, minimising the likelihood of disease coming onto their farms.”

“Similarly, the general public has a role to play. By not bringing plants or parts of plants — such as cuttings, flowers and leaves — into Australia through the airport or mail, we can work together to keep Australia Xylella-free.”

The symposium, held on 17–19 May 2017, was supported by the Stronger Biosecurity Quarantine Initiative and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

Presentations and a report on the Symposium will be made available in the future.

Gari has happy feet over her new life in Australia

Bringing Gari to Australia was the first attempt to import a Fiordland crested penguin.

Gari, a Fiordland crested penguin from New Zealand, recently ended a brief stint in quarantine to join new friends in the penguin display at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

And in being sent to Australia, Gari is doing her bit to help preserve her species by preventing the risk of introducing exotic diseases to her penguin colony.

Gari was rescued at Hokitika, off New Zealand’s South Island in December 2014. Following a paper trail spanning more than 12 months, she made her way across the ditch to Australia where she spent 35 days in quarantine at Taronga Zoo’s Seal Theatre.

“Fiordland penguins that wash up on shore can’t be returned to their colonies as the risk of carrying an unknown disease is too great,” explained Brad McKenzie, Taronga Zoo’s marine mammal supervising keeper.

Continue reading about Gari has happy feet over her new life in Australia

“This is especially important for a species identified as vulnerable to extinction. It’s wonderful that Gari will have a second chance at life here with our two male Fiordland penguins, Munro and Moeraki.”

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Head of Biosecurity Operations, Nico Padovan, said that bringing Gari to Australia was the first attempt to import a Fiordland crested penguin, and as such the assessment process took some time.

“Both Australia and New Zealand administer robust biosecurity legislation and quarantine requirements around the import of animals,” Mr Padovan said.

“Being an island, it’s vital we do everything possible to keep unwanted animal pests and diseases out of our country to protect our own species.

“Once all the assessments and clearances had been completed Gari’s stay in quarantine was fairly brief.”

Taronga Conservation Society Australia helps to fund the West Coast Penguin Trust in New Zealand, specifically in support of the Trust’s research and field work aimed at saving this penguin species, which has been classed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Not all live animals are allowed to be imported into Australia, as the pest or disease risks associated with their importation may be considered too great. Find out more about import conditions for live animals

2016 a bumper year for airport biosecurity seizures

During 2016, 273,000 items of biosecurity risk were seized at Australian international airports.

The boom in air travel to Australia has presented some unique challenges for our airport biosecurity officers, who assess incoming international passengers and their baggage for items that could potentially harbour unwanted pests and diseases.

Air travel is a major pathway for biosecurity risk goods reaching our shores. Passengers can unwittingly, or otherwise, bring in items that can threaten our $60 billion-a-year agricultural industry, our unique environment and, ultimately, our distinctive way of life.

During 2016, 273,000 items of biosecurity risk were seized at Australian international airports—an increase of over 6 per cent compared to 2015.

However, the rate of increase varies between airports. For example, Perth showed the highest increase at 28 per cent, while a more modest rise in the number of items seized was seen in Sydney (1 per cent), Brisbane (2 per cent) and Darwin (4 per cent). Bucking the trend, Cairns international airport actually saw an 11 per cent decrease in biosecurity risk items being seized.

Continue reading about 2016 a bumper year for airport biosecurity seizures

The reasons for this overall increase in biosecurity seizures and varying results between airports are due to several issues, in particular the increase in the number and origin of international flights and passengers arriving in Australia. In 2016 more than 4.1 million passengers were assessed by biosecurity officers.

The rise in seizures around the country highlights the need for all travellers to be aware of and remain vigilant against bringing in goods carrying unwanted exotic pests and diseases.

“Australia is lucky to be free from many pests and diseases, but increased overseas travel means an increased risk of new pests and diseases entering Australia that could seriously impact our unique environment, agricultural industries and our plant, animal and human health status,” the department’s Deputy Secretary, Lyn O’Connell, said.

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

Even an apple provided on an international flight could carry fruit fly, which could seriously damage Australia’s $556 million apple industry.

Similarly, meat products, in particular pork, can carry foot-and-mouth disease, which, should it become established in this country, has been estimated to cost Australia $50 billion over a decade.

“These small acts could lead to real impacts for our farmers and consumers—it’s every passenger’s responsibility to think about what they pack, check the department’s website to make sure, and if in doubt, leave it out,” Ms O’Connell said.

“Biosecurity officers actively target deliberate concealment and non-compliance with Australia’s biosecurity laws using detector dogs and x-ray machines.

“Breaking biosecurity laws can have serious consequences, including criminal prosecution and fines in excess of $250,000.

“There are also on-the-spot fines—is an apple or a sausage really worth a $420 on-the-spot fine?”

For more information on what can and can’t be brought to Australia.

Read about some of the unusual biosecurity risk items that have been recently seized at Australian international airports in Border Finds.

Cultivating relationships with our offshore neighbours

Papua New Guinea and Australian scientists collaborating in Cairns during May 2017.

Visiting our near neighbours to spread the word on plant pests and surveillance has many benefits for the work of the department’s biosecurity officers.

With funding from the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper our department has recently reciprocated the opportunity, bringing two scientists from Papua New Guinea’s National Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA) to Queensland.

For NAQIA plant pathologist, Marilyn Apa, and entomologist, Bala Asigau, spending time with our scientists and discussing pests of mutual concern provided an invaluable learning experience.

“It was such a worthwhile experience for both of us,” Marilyn said.

Continue reading about cultivating relationships with our offshore neighbours

“It was such a worthwhile experience for both of us,” Marilyn said.

“Bala and I participated in a NAQS field survey in the Torres Strait and laboratory diagnostics training in Cairns, with interesting field trips to banana and sugar cane plantations.

“Working with your experienced and knowledgeable plant health scientists, training in lab diagnosis—especially with DNA/RNA extractions and molecular screening of organisms—and exposure to the set-up of a quarantine lab was very rewarding.

“Discussing variety and breeding programs with Queensland Government scientists at Mareeba and South Johnstone, and with Sugar Research Australia, also put into perspective the importance of biosecurity in the agriculture industry.

“Bala and I are very grateful to everyone for making our visit such a success,” she said.

Marion Healy, First Assistant Secretary of Plant Biosecurity, said Marilyn and Bala’s visit was a great opportunity to exchange skills and knowledge.

“Opportunities like this help build relationships and expertise both for our staff and our overseas counterparts.

“By sharing our knowledge with our near neighbours we are building mutually beneficial capacity and understanding, delivering on a key White Paper biosecurity objective to develop a strong, effective and sustainable regional surveillance system,” Ms Healy said.

“Our biosecurity colleagues will apply their learnings when out in the field and in the lab back home, bringing benefits to both countries.”

Scientists from Timor-Leste have also recently participated in field survey work in Darwin and laboratory training in Cairns, with our biosecurity staff set to visit our near neighbours again in 2018.

Stay tuned to Biosecurity Matters for more updates on how we’re strengthening regional partnerships under the White Paper.

Border finds: Snail mail fail

Snails may seem like slow movers, but they can breed rapidly and in great numbers.

Biosecurity officers at the Sydney Mail Centre uncovered a gourmet snail when they came across 13 live Helix pomatia snails in packages sent from the Ukraine.

The snails, commonly known as Roman snails, were most likely intended for the food industry — where they and their progeny would be slurped up by gourmet diners.

But they could have put a lot more than themselves in the frying pan had they gotten loose. Snails like these may seem like slow movers, but they can breed rapidly and in great numbers, and an established population could cause huge damage to Australia’s agricultural industries and precious environment.

Under the Biosecurity Act 2015, penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $420,000 are the risks people face if they try to circumvent Australia’s biosecurity rules. That’s a lot to pay for a bite-sized gourmet snack.

Currently, only some marine snail species can be imported into Australia for human consumption, and there are very strict conditions around their import. 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.

Border finds: Don't play with these toys

“Toys” sent through the mail from Indonesia had 50 live turtles and lizards inside.

A package declared as ‘toys’ sent from Indonesia was intercepted and checked by the Australian Border Force and found to contain 50 live turtles and lizards.

Biosecurity officers were swiftly alerted, vets secured the contraband and the animals were euthanised.

Importing turtles and lizards without an import permit is not only breaking the law, but it puts human health and the health of our ecosystems at risk.

It is one of the reasons why the Biosecurity Act 2015 was introduced — to update our laws so we can respond to the popularity of online shopping. The turtle and lizard importation matter is still under investigation.

Our biosecurity officers regularly intercept international mail parcels containing prohibited items. Find out more about what can and can’t be sent to Australia​.

By doing the right thing, our biosecurity officers can better focus their efforts on those who intentionally try to break the rules.

Border finds: Seeds from space

The tomato seeds were launched into space in 1984 aboard Space Shuttle Challenger.

Our biosecurity officers in Sydney recently dealt with an unexpected extra-terrestrial arrival, intercepting packets of NASA space seeds that had been imported from Italy.

The tomato seeds were launched into space back in 1984 aboard NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility on Space Shuttle Challenger, and returned to Earth six years later aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. While outside our atmosphere they were used as part of an experiment to see if weightlessness and long exposure to radiation in space affected the seeds’ growth.

The well-travelled seeds were undeclared when they arrived in Australia, and were referred to our biosecurity officers by Australian Border Force.

The seeds were an unusual find that potentially posed a biosecurity risk, because they could carry unknown plant pests and diseases from Italy – or even outer space.

All plant material imported to Australia must meet our biosecurity conditions, regardless of the country, or galaxy, that it has arrived from. Because the seeds were a collector’s item for display purposes rather than for planting, the seeds were treated using gamma irradiation and released to the importer.

Get more information on importing plant material or seeds to Australia.

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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.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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