The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has called for swift government action over a dire pest and disease warning issued yesterday by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Calling the report “alarming”, the NFF says it confirms Australian agriculture is at risk of increased disease outbreaks and pest incursions, weakened exports and damage to the nation’s global trading reputation.
The prediction comes after the absence in the October Federal Budget of any meaningful new funding commitment to strengthen the national biosecurity system and following the failure of the much anticipated biosecurity levy, the farming body claimed in a statement.
Not a business-as-usual approach
Tony Mahar, the NFF’s Chief Executive, said the new report – entitled ‘Australia’s Biosecurity Future: Unlocking the next decade of resilience’ – was a sobering read 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.
“A strong biosecurity system is fundamental to the success of Australia’s $60-billion agriculture sector – and to our ambition to grow to $100-billion in output by 2030,” Mahar said.
“It is also central to the health of our natural environment, community wellbeing and the economy at large.”
Collaborative biosecurity system
According to Mahar, Australia’s biosecurity system is simply too important to compromise.
“This report clearly demonstrates that Australia needs a more innovative, coordinated and collaborative biosecurity system if it is to keep up with the threat from increasing and severe biosecurity events,” he cautioned.
Mahar said the volume and complexity of biosecurity threats would continue to grow. In the five years to 2017, the amount of biosecurity risk materials intercepted in Australia had already increased by almost 50%.
Multiple new exotic pests
“A single pest or disease incursion has the potential to bring our agricultural industries to their knees. The COVID-19 experience has brought home the message that biosecurity matters to all Australians and a biosecurity breach can have far reaching economic, environmental and social consequences.”
The NFF says the agriculture sector is grappling with the impact of multiple new exotic pest incursions this year, including avian influenza and fall army worm.
Similarly, the threat of other highly damaging pests and diseases such as African swine fever, khapra beetle, brown marmorated stink bug, foot and mouth disease and Xylella fastidiosa – which have spread around the world, looms large for Aussie farmers.