The National Farmers’ Federation has renewed calls for tighter biosecurity systems, amid the interception of parcels containing pork products contaminated with African Swine Flu and Foot and Mouth disease.
“Fortunately, in this instance the offending products were detected at the border, however all it takes is one missed parcel to put the productivity, profitability and ultimately market access of Australia farmers at serious risk,” said NFF Chief Executive Tony Mahar.
Mr Mahar said that the detection of the two diseases showed how exposed Australia is to a biosecurity breach and highlighted biosecurity systems as underfunded and outdated.
“The importation of new pests and diseases has the potential to bring many agricultural industries to their knees, not only hurting farmers and communities but the economy as a whole.
“Biosecurity is key to controlling domestic weeds and pests and crucially, maintaining and expanding our export markets.
“The cost of a single outbreak of disease or pest has been conservatively estimated to exceed $50 billion.”
In 2020, the Biosecurity Levy Steering Committees recommendation of a biosecurity imports levy was ignored by the Government.
“The commitment would ensure adequate long-term funding for the national biosecurity system, targeting risk-creating activities and communication to give our trading partners confidence in Australia’s pest and disease-free status.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the wrecking ball effects a biosecurity outbreak can have.”
Feral Pigs a Domestic Headache
For some Australian farmers, pigs are already causing grief.
While the National Feral Pig Action plan is still being finalised, an estimated 23 million feral pigs are costing Australian agriculture more than $100 million a year.
In Queensland, one of the states most affected by feral pigs, one farmer wages a nightly battle to reduce the number of pigs on his farm, observing groups of up to 30 pigs on his land.
“Sometimes I’m sure they knock down 10 tonne a night of cane and last year I lost around 5 tonnes of soya beans which is $4,000 worth,” said Lester Cronau.
Mr Cronau has started to pig-proof his property with fencing including a double strand of barbed wire.
“I’ve only done 800 metres … it’s helped but the whole place needs a fence around it,” he said.
“The issue with that is the creek – fencing along that is an issue because if you get floods it’ll just knock it down.”
At Maryborough just south of Hervey Bay, cane farmer Norm Muller has culled 250 pigs on his property, reducing the population for now.
Mr Muller said that the damage caused by pigs extended beyond his crops.
“It’s the mess they make when they dig for grubs underneath the trash and some of the holes can be 2 or 3 feet deep.”
“You’re running through there with machinery and the next thing you’re free falling into these holes. It’s dangerous for people working.”
One pig trapper said the feral pig problem had increased over the last 20 years with significant damage to cane and macadamia crops.
“What they do in the cane and macadamias – it’s quite disturbing on a big scale.
“Thousands of dollars just gone, probably even hundreds of thousands in just this area [Fraser Coast] alone.”
In this week’s budget, the government has announced a $371 million biosecurity package, including $59 million towards swine flu prevention and a $67 million surveillance and response program.