Australia’s reputation as an exporter of high-quality, clean agricultural produce depends largely on its freedom from exotic pests and diseases. The introduction of exotic pests and diseases could have serious environmental and economic consequences for Australia, for example it has been estimated that a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could cost Australia as much as $13 billion.
Quarantine and trade
Australia has stringent quarantine requirements to help protect human health, Australia’s agricultural industries and its environment.
Australia ensures that it imports plants and plant materials as well as animals and animal materials in a carefully controlled manner to lessen any quarantine risk.
Import permits are issued by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) after quarantine risks have been carefully examined. If the risk can be managed, AQIS will grant a permit.
Quarantine is an integral part of supporting safe trade that gives Australian consumers access to a greater range of products.
Threats to Australia’s agricultural industries
Foot and mouth disease
Australia has been free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) for more than 130 years, thanks to being an island and strict border controls. An outbreak of FMD could devastate Australia’s livestock industries. FMD is a highly contagious disease of livestock, such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats (ruminants). It is known as one of the world’s most serious livestock diseases and can be spread through saliva, on wool or hair, on livestock equipment or even on vehicle tyres. It is not a risk to human health.
Other threats to Australian agriculture
Australia’s agricultural industries make up a fifth of Australia’s national economy. The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and AQIS are working to reduce the risk to Australia’s agricultural industries from a range of exotic diseases and pests, including:
- Khapra beetle—the world’s most serious pest of stored grains. If this pest became established in Australia it would pose a major threat to export trade worth billions of dollars.
- Giant African snail—known to attack at least 500 species of plants, and could even threaten Australia’s eucalypts as well as cocoa, peanut and legume crops.
- Asian gypsy moth—a threat to more than 600 species of native, fruit and ornamental trees.
- Karnal bunt—a fungal disease that can ruin wheat and would be a threat to exports worth billions of dollars.
- Quarantine assessments—Biosecurity Australia
Biosecurity Australia (an independent agency within the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) provides science-based quarantine assessments and policy advice to protect Australia from exotic pests and diseases. This is done in accordance with the Quarantine Act 1908, Australian Government policy, and Australia’s international obligations.
When another country wishes to export agricultural commodities to Australia, there is an obligation under the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement to assess the import proposal in a fair, timely and least trade restrictive manner. At the same time, Australia takes a conservative approach to quarantine risk to preserve its favourable animal and plant health status.
Biosecurity Australia provides technical and scientific expertise to assist Australian farmers and exporters to maintain existing animaland plant-related overseas markets or to access new overseas markets.
As the first line of quarantine defence is offshore, Biosecurity Australia helps to build relevant expertise in Australia’s region by contributing to risk assessment workshops, training and bilateral projects. Biosecurity Australia contributes to the development of international quarantine standards by participating in international standard-setting organisations.
Quarantine and travel
One of AQIS’s key roles is to inspect items of quarantine concern at Australia’s ports and, if necessary, treat, or confiscate and destroy these. Every year more than ten million passengers pass through Australia’s seaports and airports, making quarantine surveillance more important than ever before. Close to nine in every 10 passengers arriving in Australia have their luggage inspected by AQIS, using a combination of detector dogs, X-ray examination and physical inspection.
Strict quarantine measures
Australia has some of the strongest quarantine measures in the world, and these apply not just to passengers, but also to mail, cargo and vessels:
- passengers must declare if they are carrying any food, plant material or animal products or if they have visited a rural area
- passengers must also declare anything made from plants or animals
- baggage is X-rayed or inspected.
- all of the 12 000 vessels that arrive in Australia each year are inspected ƒ. surveillance has been increased, including for waste management
- passengers are questioned or inspected
- baggage is X-rayed or inspected.
International mail centres
- 150 million international mail items sent to Australia each year are screened using X-rays, detector dogs, or otherwise inspected.
- inspections are carried out on aircraft and shipping containers’ exteriors
- import permits and declarations are checked
- targeted cargo consignments are inspected.
Travelling to Australia
Travellers to Australia must declare anything made from plants or animals, including meat, dairy or other animal products, wooden articles, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and live animals. The penalties for breaching Australia’s quarantine laws include hefty fines or imprisonment. Australia is very serious about remaining free of exotic pests and disease: travellers who fail to declare minor quarantine risk items face on-the-spot fines of $220 or prosecution and penalties for more serious offences of up to $60 000—plus a criminal record.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all dollar amounts are in Australian dollars.
last updated February 2012