National Farmers' Federation

Canberra man recognised for detecting exotic grain pest; government must do more on biosecurity

The National Farmers’ Federation has recognised the efforts of a Canberra man, who detected the larvae of the grain industry’s no.1 enemy, the khapra beetle, in the packaging of a new fridge.

Brett Burdett, this week received a community award for his decision to report a detection of the unusual insect in August. Reporting of the khapra detection by Mr Burdett allowed the department to initiate immediate tracking, tracing, inspection, containment and treatment of the pest, and showed what a critical role the community plays in biosecurity surveillance.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said community vigilance was an important component of biosecurity but it must be supported by the requisite will and investment of government.

“An outbreak of khapra beetle could cost Australia $15.5 billion over 20 years through revenue losses from reduction in production and exports.

“It would be a heavy blow to our grain growers many of whom are embarking on the first decent harvest in years.”

“Unfortunately, the global spread of khapra beetle is increasing and it is being detected on a wide range of plant products and as a hitchhiker pest on containers from places where khapra is not known to occur.

“The spread of khapra – and many other damaging pests and diseases – is deeply concerning to Australia’s farm sector, and the reporting of a further detection of khapra only serves to add weight to the NFF’s call for government to better resource border and pre-border biosecurity measures” Mr Mahar said.

Last week, as governments rallied to contain the latest khapra detection, Australia’s national science agency released a sobering report on the biosecurity landscape, which showed that a business as usual approach would not meet the challenges of the future and protect Australia from the potentially devastating impacts of exotic pests and diseases.

Mr Mahar stressed that all Australians must heed the warning in CSIRO’s Australia’s Biosecurity Future report and play their part in delivering a strong national biosecurity system – including by reporting unusual pests or diseases, understanding legal responsibilities when travelling or moving goods, and adopting best practice farm biosecurity.

“Ultimately the best and most cost-effective way to manage biosecurity risk is prevention.

“As the global biosecurity risk environment continues to change and becomes more complex, the Department of Agriculture – as the lead regulatory agency for managing biosecurity in Australia – must be structured and resourced to deliver its critical biosecurity functions in an innovative, flexible and effective way,” Mr Mahar said.

“This includes being able to quickly respond to incidents like the recent khapra detections, bring in the relevant experts and develop and implement new measures – for example to better manage hitchhiker pests on shipping containers.

“The Department does a great job, but the message is clear – the biosecurity system must modernise to meet the challenges of the future, and resourcing the system must be a priority for governments.

“I can’t overstate how important this is. The Australian community needs to be able to have confidence in our national biosecurity arrangements.”

Recent reports from the independent Inspector General of Biosecurity (IGB) have also highlighted shortcomings in our national biosecurity system and made constructive recommendations for reform and improvement.

The NFF is calling on the Australian Government to accept and prioritise the implementation of the IGB’s advice.

“The farm sector is alarmed that there is still no action to fill the gap left by the failed biosecurity levy. A strong biosecurity system will help underpin Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 – the most significant biosecurity event of modern times,” Mr Mahar said.

The NFF also congratulated the winners of the Australian Biosecurity Awards, announced at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s National Biosecurity Forum this week. All winners have made a substantial contribution to strengthening Australia’s biosecurity system, which safeguards our $60 billion agriculture sector, our unique environment, the Australian community and the economy at large.

Media Contact
Laureta Wallace
GM, Media & Communications
0408 448 250

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