Biosecurity Matters, Edition 6, 2017

​​​​Biosecurity Matters


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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.

A royal honour for Australian horses

Australian horses are highly sought after in Thailand.

It’s well known that Australian-bred horses are prized internationally, but now it’s been proven that they’re fit for a king.

In August, 55 specially selected Australian horses were sent to Thailand to be part of the Cavalry Honour Guard for the Royal Cremation Ceremony for His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej which occurred on 29 October. The horses were involved in the sixth procession to transfer the Royal Ashes from Phra Sri Rattana Chedi in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to be enshrined at Wat Rajabopidh and Wat Bovoranives.

Head of the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Exports Division, Fran Freeman, said she was pleased Australian-bred horses were selected to play a role in honouring His Majesty the Late King during this solemn mourning period.

“The passing of His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a time of deep sorrow for the Thai people and we offer our condolences during this difficult time,” Ms Freeman said.


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“The best horses were handpicked from across Australia by the Royal Thai Army’s 29th Cavalry Squadron, King’s Guard, for their temperament, good health and physical attributes. Australian government veterinarians examined the horses for any signs of disease or injury prior to export and certified that the horses met Thai importing conditions.

“The horses were safely transported to Thailand in August before successfully undergoing the mandatory 30 days of quarantine on arrival, where they acclimatised to their new environment.

”Australian horses are highly sought after in Thailand – they’re already accustomed to the heat, they’re generally of a smaller build suitable for the climate and the journey to Thailand is relatively brief.

“The Thai Cavalry have a history of importing Australian horses for their work and breeding programs. The 55 horses recently exported increased their number of working horses from approximately 160 to over 200.”

The horses will remain in Thailand to perform official duties with the Thai army.


Singing the praises of northern biosecurity

Desley Darby (right) with music producer Nigel Pegrum (left) from Pegasus Studios, during the recording of the Frontline song.

We must protect our land and waters….Keep it safe for our sons and daughters
Your line, my line. Everybody’s coastline….Your eyes, my eyes. We are the frontline….

These are the important opening lines in a new biosecurity song, Frontline, developed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which was recently launched on the department’s Australian Biosecurity Facebook page.

The song has proven to be very successful: on its first day the Facebook post reached 2,354 people, with 34 likes and 18 shares, and a further 700 views of the song’s video on YouTube.

Recorded at the Pegasus Studio in Cairns, Frontline features the talents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists Rochelle Pitt Watson, Naomi Wenitong, Patrick Mau and Andrew Miller.


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Desley Darby, Director, Community Engagement, for the department’s Science Services Group, explains the significance of the song. “The partnership between governments, producers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is longstanding and is an important element in undertaking biosecurity activities in northern Australia.

“I remember watching the song being performed by the amazing artists in the studio. It was a very emotional experience for me. I could not help but feel some form of spiritual connection to Australia’s land and sea. I hope everyone can experience that when they listen to the song”, Ms Darby said.

“The Frontline song highlights that biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility and shows why it’s important for us all to be biosecurity aware. The song will be used across a range of community engagement events for years to come.”

This initiative was made possible with funding through the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, to improve Australia’s biosecurity surveillance and better target biosecurity risks.

Northern Australia’s vast, sparsely populated 10,000 km coastline is the frontline for many high-risk animal and plant pests and diseases. Biosecurity risks can reach Australia through the movement of people and goods by sea and air, through traditional trade, and by natural pathways such as wind, tide and animal migration.

It is important that we work collaboratively to protect northern Australia’s unique environment and growing source of agricultural wealth.

You can listen to Frontline and watch the accompanying video on the department’s website.


Biosecurity diligence leads to a Commendation Award

(Left to Right) Biosecurity officer Tam Phan, Stephen Tognolini, Director Inspection Services – North East, Joshua Potts and Kurt Wadley at the PISCES Commendation Award presentation.

Quick thinking and follow-up action has seen two employees of an Approved Arrangement premise in Brisbane receive a Commendation Award from the department for identifying exotic fish incorrectly labelled and flown into Australia.

Late last year a consignment of live fish from Thailand landed at a cargo terminal at Brisbane airport where biosecurity officers conducted an initial inspection.

The consignment invoice listed the fish as a permitted fish, however, poor visibility in the bags prevented visual confirmation and the fish were sent to PISCES Enterprises, an Approved Arrangement premise in Brisbane, for final inspection. An Approved Arrangement allows an industry participant to carry out activities involved with the management of biosecurity risks associated with specified goods, premises or other things.


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On the same day, Joshua Potts and Kurt Wadley from PISCES Enterprises were transferring the fish from the boxes to the fish tanks in their quarantine room, when they identified that the fish were not the species listed on the invoice.

Mr. Potts notified the department about the prohibited fish and waited for further direction. The fish were isolated in the quarantine room and kept segregated from other fish.

Biosecurity officers attended PISCES Enterprises to inspect the reported concern and confirmed that the fish were Black Spot catfish (Horabagrus brachysoma), a species prohibited in Australia. The biosecurity officer then supervised the euthanasia of the prohibited fish.

On presenting the Commendation Award, Stephen Tognolini, Director, Inspection Services – North East, said that Mr. Potts and Mr. Wadley demonstrated a strong commitment to preventing the introduction of exotic pests into Australia.

“Through their diligence they have assisted with the early detection and prompt management of an identified biosecurity risk, which if accidentally released into the wild could have devastating effects on local fish populations,” Mr. Tognolini said.

“This is an example of the integral partnership approach to managing risks across the continuum to maintain Australia’s biosecurity status”.


Research collaboration delivers improved biosecurity decision-support tools

CEBRA’s Professor Tom Kompas (right) recently joined the department’s Iain East (left) to talk about the prevention and best responses to an incursion and possible spread of foot and mouth disease in Australia.

Australia’s biosecurity system is complex. Trade patterns, volumes and the risks associated with the system are changing, and as a result, we need to look at doing things differently.

The department’s recently established biosecurity research, development and extension priorities provide a shared vision for biosecurity research to underpin and support change.

Stakeholders gathered in Canberra during November to hear researchers from the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) and the department talk about their three-year collaborative research project on post-border surveillance for early detection, and the best responses to an incursion of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Australia.

The seminar shared key achievements and benefits of our collaboration with CEBRA, including how their research is improving our biosecurity policies and operations. In particular, it covered additional active surveillance measures for the early detection of FMD, along with effective ongoing surveillance should an incursion occur, the establishment of an optimal vaccination zone given an incursion, and different approaches to the vaccination protocol.


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Combined, these projects provide the department with guidance on the prevention and management of an FMD incursion and key offsets to resulting trade losses that would help Australia return to market more quickly.

CEBRA’s Professor Tom Kompas said that the use of decision-support tools in emergency animal disease planning and response was critical to managing a potential FMD incursion.

“FMD is considered to be one of the most contagious diseases affecting cloven hoofed animals,” Professor Kompas said.

“The disease has debilitating effects including weight loss, decrease in milk production, loss in productivity and high mortality in young animals, in addition to the significant losses in market access and trade”.

“ABARES has estimated that the economic damage that could result from a potential FMD incursion in Australia to be approximately $50 billion dollars, depending on the size and location of the initial incursion and resulting spread”.

CEBRA is a key initiative in the Australian Government’s response to managing biosecurity risks. It provides world-class research and understanding of the issues, risks and response mechanisms to underpin policy interventions and tools. CEBRA ensures that governments are leaders in practical risk assessment by providing collaborative, relevant and practical research outcomes.


Collaboration stops tramp ants in their tracks at Brisbane port

Once the colony had been detected, a cordon was set up around the site while officers set lures to destroy the ants.

Departmental biosecurity officers recently collaborated with industry and the Queensland Department of Agriculture to successfully manage a colony of tramp ants that was detected at a Brisbane port.

Once the colony had been detected, a cordon was set up around the site while officers set lures to destroy the ants. The location of the colony was kept under surveillance for several weeks, to ensure the baiting was successful, while authorities ensured that no cargo was placed in the area at the time.

Head of the department’s biosecurity operations, Nico Padovan, said biosecurity officers acted quickly to contain the colony.

“Tramp ants are an invasive and aggressive species that has established widely across the globe. They have previously been found in the Northern Territory, but this was the first sighting in Queensland,” Mr Padovan said.


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“If undetected, tramp ant infestations can spread rapidly and potentially transmit diseases that could damage our $60 billion agricultural industry. They pose a huge risk to our environment and way of life, and represent a significant biosecurity risk to Australia.”

“Our officers worked closely with industry stakeholders at Brisbane port, and officers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, as part of the ongoing surveillance and eradication efforts”, Mr Padovan explained.

“Their work was successful in managing the detection, with no further evidence of tramp ant activity found at the site. This is a great example of our department working collaboratively with industry and state government to safeguard Australia from significant biosecurity risks.”

Australian biosecurity is a shared responsibility and all Australians are urged to remain vigilant and report sightings of unusual pests to the department’s See.Secure.Report. Hotline on 1800 798 636.

For more information on tramp ants, visit the department’s website.


Changes to import conditions

Deciding what goods and conveyances should be allowed into Australia is a constant challenge.

Deciding what goods and conveyances should be allowed into Australia is a constant challenge.

Factors such as pest or disease outbreaks and changes to the way goods are manufactured, packaged and transported, mean that what was safe today may not be tomorrow.

Fortunately, our biosecurity system allows us to adapt to changing biosecurity risk. In monitoring and maintaining Australia’s biosecurity, we increase and decrease import conditions as required.

Where it is safe to do so, we offer reduced administration. Some goods can be imported into Australia without a permit if alternative conditions are met.


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The alternative conditions in the Goods Determinations are an important step in reducing the regulatory and financial burden for importers, while appropriately managing biosecurity risk and maintaining Australia’s Appropriate Level of Protection.

On 21 December 2017, a variety of updates will occur to the Biosecurity Goods Determinations which specify whether import permits, or alternative conditions for import, must be met to bring particular goods into Australia and its territories.

We will add import conditions to some goods and remove them from others. For example, natural casings for human consumption will no longer require an import permit if the goods comply with alternative conditions listed in the determination.

The Biosecurity Goods Determinations refer to a number of lists published on our website. Some of those lists will be updated to reflect changing import conditions, and to make them easier to understand. There will also be a number of new lists added to complement new alternative conditions.

The majority of the changes will apply from 21 December 2017 with the exception of alternative conditions for fresh cut flowers and foliage. These new conditions will not commence until 1 March 2018 to allow us time to work with industry on transitioning to new requirements.

You can access the determinations and supporting import condition lists at the department’s website.

A summary of the changes is also available on our website.


Safeguarding our vegetable industries

The department is conducting an extensive review of the import conditions for vegetable seeds coming into Australia.

Helping to safeguard our vegetable industries from exotic pathogens is what biosecurity is all about. To do this our department is conducting an extensive review of the import conditions for vegetable seeds coming into Australia.

This review is being funded under the Australian Government’s 2015 Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper program.

The review is currently focused on four seed families; the Apiaceae (carrot, celery), Brassicaceae (broccoli, cauliflower), Cucurbitaceae (cucumber, melons) and Solanaceae (capsicum, tomato).

Dr Mahmood Nasir, from Biosecurity Plant team said that in recent years, the risk of seed-borne pathogens has increased.


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“This increase can in part be linked to the globalisation of the vegetable seed trade,” Dr Nasir said.

“We know that Australian producers source the majority of their vegetable seeds for sowing from overseas and that a lot of these lack pest-specific phytosanitary measures.”

“This means there is an increased risk that exotic pathogens could be introduced with imported seeds as seen with the recent outbreaks of Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus (CGMMV) in the Northern Territory in 2014 and more recently in Queensland.”

Two of the four upcoming vegetable seed reviews are well underway with the Apiaceae family review draft report consultation period now closed and the Cucurbitaceaefamily review released for stakeholder consultation and comments on 6 December 2017.

“Through these reviews we will establish up-to-date biosecurity import conditions to facilitate the trade of vegetable seeds, while managing the threat of exotic pathogens,” Dr Nasir said.

“The need for testing of key vegetable seeds coming into Australia is clear.

“We want to try and protect against the potential for significant economic consequences these outbreaks can create.”

The department recently finalised the pest risk analysis for CGMMV, following introduction of emergency measures in 2014, which require mandatory testing of seeds to verify freedom from CGMMV.

More information about the review of import conditions is available on the department’s website.


New Plant Innovation Centre launches

The new Plant Innovation Centre will ensure that our services remain modern and effective in the future.

The global trade environment is changing at a rapid rate, with the volume of passengers, shipping and cargo arriving in Australia expected to nearly double by 2025. To keep up with our changing world we need to apply innovative approaches to our work.

The department has taken a bold step in this direction with the recent launch in November of the new Plant Innovation Centre (PIC) at the Post-Entry Quarantine facility in Mickleham, known as the PIC@PEQ.

Head of Biosecurity Plant Division within the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr Marion Healy, said the new centre will improve the nation’s capacity for addressing current plant biosecurity risks, and will ensure that our services remain modern and effective in the future.

“This new centre will help strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system to safeguard our environment and $60 billion agricultural industries,” Dr Healy said.


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“The centre will also progress improved treatments to help us manage some of the most significant plant pests for Australia, including Xylella fastidiosa, which is our number one priority plant pest.”

The PIC@PEQ is the first of its kind for our department. Examples of projects at the PIC@PEQ include mobile apps to assist our frontline inspectors with plant diagnostics, as well as the use of more efficient and effective techniques, such as next generation sequencing.

Stay tuned to future editions of Biosecurity Matters for more news about ongoing activities happening at the PIC@PEQ.


Border finds: Exotic stowaways leave us hopping mad

Cuban tree frogs could prove extremely destructive to Australia’s unique wildlife.

Our vigilant frontline biosecurity officers recently sprang into action when they intercepted a trio of Cuban tree frogs attempting to relocate from the United States to Australia.

The frogs had stowed themselves away in a container carrying cooling equipment and were discovered at an importer’s premises in Victoria. Fortunately, the find was quickly reported to our biosecurity officers, who attended the site and removed the container for fumigation.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Head of Biosecurity Operations, Nico Padovan, said that the actions of the quick-thinking importer ensured the Cuban tree frogs were captured and destroyed before causing any harm.

“While frogs may appear harmless, this particular species – the Cuban tree frog – is very invasive. It is native to Cuba, the Bahamas and Cayman Islands, but has spread to Anguilla, Costa Rica, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and some parts of the United States,” Mr Padovan said.

“Cuban tree frogs could prove extremely destructive to Australia’s unique wildlife, as they will feed on frogs, including members of their own species, as well as lizards, insects, spiders and even small snakes.”

“This is another example of the importance of collaboration between industry and our biosecurity officers to successfully detect and intercept biosecurity threats and safeguard our agricultural industries and environment.”

Biosecurity is a shared responsibility and all Australians are urged to remain vigilant and report sightings of unusual pests to the department’s See.Secure.Report hotline on 1800 798 636.

For more information on reporting a biosecurity concern visit the department’s website.


Border finds: A succulent discovery

The consignment of undeclared items included 20 live succulent plants.

Six bags of live plants, bulbs, seeds, fungi and soil were just some of the biosecurity risk items recently intercepted by our officers during a search on a couple arriving at Sydney International Airport.

The passengers were searched after catching the attention of detector dog Scully, who alerted her handler to the couple’s hand luggage and clothing. A subsequent search revealed that their seven items of luggage contained a significant quantity of undeclared plant and food items of biosecurity concern.

Live plants were also found in a jacket worn by the female passenger, and during the search she attempted to conceal plant material that had fallen out of her pocket under the inspection bench.

In total, the consignment of undeclared items included:

  • 20 live succulent plants
  • Bulbs / tubers
  • A variety of seeds
  • Fungi
  • Fertiliser
  • Soil
  • Pots
  • Irrigation equipment
  • Citrus peel
  • Salami / sausage

The couple received infringement notices amounting to $840.

The department works around-the-clock to enforce Australia’s strict biosecurity border controls — 158 million mail items and 20 million passengers were screened in the 2016-17 financial year, along with the assessment of 18,000 vessels.

If you’re travelling overseas, it’s important to check that items comply with Australia’s biosecurity requirements before mailing them, or bringing them home in your luggage.

For more information, please go to Travelling or sending goods to Australia.


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