Biosecurity Needs Major Overhaul Within A Decade To Protect People

Australia’s Biosecurity Needs A Major Overhaul Within A Decade To Protect People, Environments &  Industries From Invasive Pests

Biosecurity Needs Major Overhaul Within A Decade To Protect People
By Graham Readfearn

Pathogens And Future Pandemics, A CSIRO Report Has Found.

Interceptions of materials that were a biosecurity risk – such as insects, soils and plants – rose by 50% between 2012 and 2017, the report says, and new invasive weeds are establishing themselves every few weeks.

The report calls for greater cooperation across all levels of society and makes 20 recommendations that would cut the “growing strain” of incursions and protect environmental assets worth $6.5tn.

According to the federal government’s inspector general of biosecurity, in a normal year more than 18,000 vessels, 1.8m sea cargo consignments, 41m air cargo consignments, 152m international mail items and 21m passengers arrive in Australia.

The Covid-19 pandemic had brought biosecurity issues into the public consciousness and presented a “unique opportunity to make transformational changes” that would protect Australia in the future, the CSIRO says.

Dr Rob Grenfell, CSIRO’s director of health and biosecurity, told a briefing on Tuesday the current system had served Australia well but “continuing business as usual with our biosecurity system won’t work”.

  • “The current system won’t cope and could expose Australia to significant social, environmental and financial risks over the next 10 years,” he said.
  • “Unless we change our approach we are facing the risk of disease outbreaks, pest incursions, weakened exports, and damage to our global trading reputation and our reputation as a safe travel destination.
  • “Animal, human and environmental health is all connected and a weakness in one is a vulnerability for all.”

A 2014 CSIRO report into Australia’s biosecurity regime identified an epidemic caused by a virus jumping from animals to humans as one of 12 potential “biosecurity megashocks” that were expected in the future.

Kathleen Plowman, the chief executive of Animal Health Australia, which helped compile the report, said in the pandemic Australia was seeing first hand that “what happens in animals can greatly affect human health”.

“The proverb that prevention is better than cure has never been truer,” she said.

The new report says weed control and loss of production is costing Australia about $5bn a year, with about 20 new invasive weeds establishing themselves in the country each year.

The cumulative cost and impact of successful invaders is also rising, the report says.

Examples include the spread of fall armyworm, impacting agriculture in Queensland, and new outbreaks of Avian flu in Victoria’s poultry industry. The invasive pathogen myrtle rust is putting several plant species at risk of extinction, and yellow crazy ants are threatening world heritage areas and national parks in Queensland.

Plant Health Australia and the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions also partnered in the report, which will be launched during a virtual workshop on Wednesday. Andreas Glanznig, the chief executive of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, told the Tuesday briefing: “We are under a level of pressure that we have never been in before and that’s predicted to get more challenging with increased global trade and tourism. “Scaling up our current approach will lead to increased risk and increased cost. We need to change the game.”

The report outlines several emerging issues for Australia:

  • Urbanisation is making it easier for pests and diseases to move around, and for problems to spread.
  • Climate change is making it easier for pests and diseases to reach new areas and makes native species more susceptible to invasive species.
  • Biodiversity loss is making natural environments less resilient, with invasive pests identified in 15 of 21 key threatening processes.

The report makes 20 recommendations, including strengthening international relations, developing a single source of public information on biosecurity, and increasing engagement with Indigenous people at decision making levels. Sarah Corcoran, the chief executive of Plant Health Australia, said advanced data sharing systems would let governments, industry and researchers quickly respond to biosecurity threats, “effectively collaborate and spearhead technological innovation”.

A spokesman for the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said in a statement to Guardian Australia that biosecurity was a key pillar supporting the Australian agricultural industry’s goal of lifting production to $100bn by 2030. The spokesman said the Australian government was investing $873m for Biosecurity and export programs in 2020-21, an increase of $243m since 2014-15. The statement added: “The Australian government will consider the recommendations outlined in the report.”

This news was originally published by The Guardian