Australia

Australia’s biosecurity could be in for a shock

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Australia’s biosecurity could be in for a shock

Related tags: Agriculture, Beekeeping, Australia.

European honey bee colonies wiped out and an invasion of a devastating wheat disease are just two of the potential biosecurity threats facing Australia, according to a report released by Australia’s research agency.

These events alone could devastate Australia's agricultural industries, economy and environment, said Dr Gary Fitt, biosecurity science director of Csiro, the Commonwealth science institute.

Australia has largely been able to maintain its enviable biosecurity status. However, experts warn that 12 “biosecurity megashocks” identified in the report could turn into reality if Australia is complacent in the way it handles them.

For example, farmers near Katherine, in the Northern Territory, are dealing with an outbreak of a new disease, Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic Virus, which has been devastating their crops and is having a severe financial impact on their businesses.

There has also been a significant decline in European honey bee populations across Australia, which could impact the economy with losses of around A$4-6bn.

The report identifies a number of global megatrends that highlight significant change and the growing complexity relating to the nation's biosecurity challenges.

Prevention better than cure

Fitt said it is better to pre-empt biosecurity issues than have to deal with the consequences.

"We have identified a number of important trends, such as the need to produce more food for a growing population while dealing with ongoing pressure on the key soil, water and biodiversity resources which sustain production​," he said.

"These trends will produce new challenges for all our plant and animal industries, our environment and human health​.

"Understanding the biosecurity megatrends identified in the report will help Australia prepare for, and deal with the pests and diseases that threaten our farming sector, environment and people​.”

A troubled future

The trends point towards a future where existing biosecurity processes and practices may not be sufficient to protect Australia.

"The management of biosecurity will require a step change towards smarter and more efficient strategies that are ideally ahead of the pace of change around the world​," said Professor Kurt Zuelke, of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

"Australia should not rely on its relatively fortunate history and become complacent in the face of growing biosecurity challenges​.

"Minimising and managing risks while taking advantage of the opportunities that a successful biosecurity system presents will only be possible through a coordinated approach involving government, industry, scientists and the general public - a shared responsibility​."

Csiro partnered with various livestock and agricultural research groups to compile the report, and consulted with industry, government and scientific organisations to complete the report.

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