With this week's news that varroa mite has slipped the net to pop up in Narrabri, and foot and mouth disease (FMD) has now been detected in Bali, the biosecurity concerns of the agricultural sector are justifiably at an all-time high.
Many readers would be aware of the seriousness of these matters, but your average person on the street would have no idea what the threat of FMD means for our livestock industries across the country or what a varroa mite infection means for our beekeepers, as well as the domestic bee population more broadly.
The direct losses suffered by those who may be unlucky enough to suffer from a pest or disease incursion are significant, astronomically so.
When considering FMD alone, the economic cost will be unlike anything this country has ever seen.
The loss of FMD-free status will also cost the industry dearly as we lose the ability to rely on our clean green credentials that have been built up over decades and which give us access to market premiums and, as a result, supports the ongoing growth and investment in these industries which leads to associated benefits to the country.
These pest and disease incursions not only have a direct and significant impact on industries and farm bottom lines, but they seriously impact the health and wellbeing of many people.
This is the human cost of biosecurity outbreaks, well understood by many in terms of human health, given the COVID-19 pandemic, but not at all well understood in animal health terms.
We are looking at possible human tragedies as well as agricultural ones, and this is my concern.
The human cost is, in many cases, incapable of being quantified.
In the case of FMD, people could lose their livelihood almost overnight. In the case of varroa mite, we are already hearing tragic stories from those who have had to euthanise entire bee populations.
Many ancillary services and workers will be impacted as well. We will undoubtedly see significant mental health challenges as a result, and these will be ongoing for many years.
Governments seem to have learned almost nothing from the recent human biosecurity breach that was COVID-19 when thinking about the same issue in an animal context.
Frankly, paltry amounts are being dedicated to biosecurity measures by both state and federal governments when you compare the cost of possible breaches.
There were funding commitments in the last federal budget in the order of hundreds of millions to fund surveillance programs, research and other measures.
When considering the foot-and-mouth disease risk alone, we are talking about a $100 billion dollar industry at stake.
A national FMD action plan was developed in 2011 and has proceeded to virtually sit on a shelf whilst successive ministers throw crumbs at the issue in an effort to appease farming advocates, who they've even gone on to berate for daring to raise the matter.
It's not good enough.
Even as I write, not a word or acknowledgement in relation to the serious FMD developments in Bali has been mentioned by either our prime minister or federal agricultural minister.
Right now - we seem to be reacting to biosecurity like a game of whack-a-mole.
An issue pops up, and we whack it, or at least we try to before it pops up again somewhere else.
This is crisis management and not the preventative and proactive approach that we need to, as a nation, be continually investing in and prioritising.
Biosecurity is everyone's issue because the costs go far beyond the farm gate.
The human cost is our concern, and the human cost will be enormous and, in some cases, irrecoverable if these diseases, viruses and pests make it past the current whack-a-mole approach.
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