Time for biosecurity vigilance

NSW Farmers: Yesterday was the best time to invest in biosecurity

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"Better late than never" is not good enough when it comes to pests and disease

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The growing presence of serpentine leafminer in NSW vegetable crops confirms the need for biosecurity to be a much stronger focus of government. The pest is the third to penetrate Australian food crops over recent months after fall armyworm and khapra beetle were both detected.

Serpentine leafminer is a pest of vegetable crops including beans, cabbage, capsicum, celery, cucumber and lettuce. Damaged plants commonly have reduced yield and in some cases are completely destroyed, and the pest's propensity for chemical resistance can make it challenging to control.

Despite the incursion of serpentine leafminer and other pests, biosecurity funding appears to be a low priority for the Australian Government. Not only were plans for an Onshore Biosecurity Levy ditched in May this year, the 2020-2021 Federal Budget contained no new funding for biosecurity.

A lack of national biosecurity funding is perverse given Australia's current pest and disease status. Not only have the abovementioned pests already landed on local soil, African swine fever continues to linger outside our borders, promising widespread harm to the Australian pork industry if it enters the country.

This is also against the backdrop of the unprecedented social and economic disruption caused by COVID-19. The pandemic has been a regrettable but realistic reminder of the damage a single virus can do.

The agriculture sector in NSW is emerging from a challenging period of drought, bushfires, storms and COVID-19. Decent rainfall has turned the tide for many farmers across the state, but bumper crops risk being wasted if invasive pests are able to penetrate our borders.

In an increasingly connected world, biosecurity investment will be more important than ever. Global trade continues to boom even amid a global pandemic, and parcels are entering Australia at an exploding rate.

NSW Farmers has long advocated for greater awareness around biosecurity threats and has urged governments to invest both here and abroad to minimise risk. "Better late than never" is not good enough when it comes to pests and disease - it's time for the Federal Government to get serious about biosecurity.

- Ian McColl, NSW Farmers Biosecurity Committee Chair

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