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December 23, 2020

Protection through biosecurity far better than cure

A mass cull of 440,000 chickens, 20 new recruits to fight a Fire Ant breakout and a call to watch for Papaya ring spot disease are just some of the current battles in Australia’s ongoing biosecurity vigil.

Initially biosecurity was about trying to stop invasive pests or diseases arriving that could damage crops and livestock as well as the wider environment, according to the Gary Fitt director of the Biosecuirty Flagship at the CSIRO.

cane toad australia
Above: The introduction of Cane Toads into Australia was a major environmental blunder.

“Today, biosecurity can encompass much more. It includes managing biological threats to our people, industries or environment. These may be from exotic (foreign) or endemic organisms but they can also extend to pandemic diseases and the threat of bioterrorism,” he wrote in a recent article.

It is also about protecting Australia’s reputation as a reliable exporter of high-quality food and fibre goods.

Australia’s geographic disposition as an island continent is both a benefit and a problem in the biosecurity battle. It is great for keeping some of the world’s most endemic and costly diseases out of the country. But it also means there is a big border to patrol and many ports to keep secure.

The 2012-13 federal budget spent over half a billion dollars on biosecurity, which brought the total since 2009 to over $1.6 billion.

This excludes the budgets of state government biosecurity agencies, and the costs borne by farmers to maintain the health of their stock.

But prevention is far cheaper than cure.

In October 2013 over 400,000 chickens were culled after an outbreak of bird flu (avian influenza) near Young, in south-west New South Wales. Despite the cull the disease turned up 35 kilometres away a week later and a further 40,000 chickens had to be eradicated.

Almost immediately other countries followed Hong Kong’s lead and temporarily suspended imports of Australian egg and poultry products.

The situation is still being monitored.

The discovery of Fire Ants near Gladstone, Queensland in December resulted in another scramble to deal with Australia’s ever evolving biosecurity threat.

The site was put under immediate quarantine. Biosecurity Queensland staff at the scene were also bolstered by 20 new local recruits who were trained in on-ground surveillance, as well as tracing where the ants came from. Just as important was determining if any further spread of the ants had occurred.

The public is also being called into service to watch out for Papaya ringspot disease to help keep it confined to the quarantine area in south-east Queensland, and away from the $30 million industry predominantly in the north of the state.

Biosecurity is expensive, time consuming, and never ending but also critical to Australia’s well-being. Just think of a country plagued with many versions of the cane toad!


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