Introduction to Plant Biosecurity
Australia is described often as an island continent. It is for this reason that Australia is relatively free of weeds, pests, insects, and pathogens that interfere with crop growth in other countries as well as their exports. Australian produce is very well accepted as exports and this has lowered the costs of production. Also, Australian being an island country is sequestered and isolated, leading to the evolution of rich flora that are unique to the continent. This rich flora is attracting international attention (School of Environmental and Rural Science).
With globalization, there has been an increased threat to humans, plants (Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, 2007a), agriculture and livestock, animals (Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, 2007b), and natural ecosystems. This is due to the increased imports of produce from other countries. The Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC), in 2012, was created for the purpose of biosecurity in Australia.
According to the PBCRC, its mission “is to develop and deploy scientific knowledge, tools, resources and capacity to safeguard Australia, its plant industries and regional communities from the economic, environmental and social consequences of damaging invasive plant pests and diseases.”
Research programs are conducted to identify emerging and new threats and effective responses and detection measures to be implemented, which include monitoring and surveillance, safeguarding of markets and trade in Australia, and, finally, securing the future by developing policies regarding biosecurity in Australia.
Biosecurity is the protection of the country’senvironment, economy, and human health from the impacts of pests, weeds, and diseases.
Noxious weeds pose great costs to agriculture as well as the environment. Thus, the Australian government had implemented the Australian Weed Strategy (Australian Weeds Committee, 2007) to prevent problems arising from weeds by imposing stringent principles and laws for the detection and response to weediness of plant imports.
Weeds have various definitions. To the urban planter, weed is some plant that grows in irrelevant spots; to the environmentalist, weed is a plant that is nonindigenous. Weeds are classified as noxious or nonnoxious depending on the levels of potential threats they can cause to the agriculture and the environment. A plant that threatens the agriculture and environment to a great extent is called a noxious weed (Department of Primary Industries, nd).
The Noxious Weeds Act of 1993 was recently modified so as to include a clear-cutclassification of weeds. This modification classified weeds into five classes based on the level of infestation they caused and the kind of responses needed to be taken to thwart the threats posed by them.
Class I includes noxious plants that pose threats that are of a very serious nature to the environment and are present in the State only to a limited extent. Class 2 is noxious weeds dangerous to the environment or region where the order applies and are present to some extent. Class 3 includes noxious weeds that tend to spread from one area to another. Class 4 includes noxious weeds that are distributed widely in the area to which the order is applicable. Class 5 is noxious plants whose seeds may be sold, and these gain entrynot the state through imports.
Australia is threatened majorly by the Patterson’s curse or the Echiumplantagineum (Naughton et al., 2006). Native to the Mediterranean and west Europe, it has spread to Australia and is toxic to stock, has the ability to produce seeds in copious amounts, and outgrow useful pastures by means of their rosette formation and early germination. This weeds costs Australia $30 million per year.
Accidently, some weeds entered into Australia. The major mean of entry was through being imported along with produce and nonproduce. For instance, the Parthenium hysterophorus entered Australia with machinery parts during WorldWar II. It is currently considered a weed of great importance in Australia, and has spread to hundreds of acres in NSW and Queensland. It can potentially spread to other States too, if no control measures are implemented.
The Nassella trichotoma or serrated tussock is the greatest nuisance to crops in Australia even since its introduction to the continent a century ago. About 140,000 seeds are produced per year and they spread by wind dispersal. It is a very successful colonizer. It leads to lost production in NSW alone in the range of $40 million per year (Australian Weed Management, 2003).
Insects Being Plant Pests
While weeds majorly spread into Australia accidently, most of the insects have been imported intentionally into the country. However, some of the insects have been imported because they are biological control agents. By biological control agents, we mean that predators are used to fight against pest insects. One mistake committed by scientists in Australia was the introduction of the “cane toad,” which was imported to control the cane beetle. It turned out that the cane toad hasno effect against the pest. This is because beetles live on the tips of sugarcane plants and toads cannot climb up the plants. These toads have, however, turned into terrible pests themselves in Australia (Goodbugs.org, nd).
In the recent decades, extreme caution has been exercised by Australia so as to monitor and screen if the imported biocontrol agents can indeed fight and control the unwanted weed or pest. Caution must also be used to check if the introduced biocontrol agent itself does not turn into a pest or pathogen.
Plant pests result in losses in productivity, increase costs of production, and threaten biodiversity and impair trade. The Australian crop industry incurs losses due to pests each year in the form of pest management costs and yield losses. Spread of pests is averted by the Australian government by steps taken in the quarantine where detection, inspection, extermination, and produce clean-up are undertaken. Pests when present in the produce, the goods are not allowed to be imported into the country.
For instance, in the quarantine, sixteen insect pests were recognized to be risks during the inspection of the bananas imported from the Philippines. This pest had the potential to spread and become established in Australia. Adverse consequences would result due to their invasion. Two species of the “mealy bug” were especially considered dangerous and were not allowed into Australia by imports of the Philippines bananas (Aiken, 2001).
Surveillance goes a long way as an incredible response to insect pests. When the pests have been identified at the early stages, it becomes easier to eradicate theme and the costs required for this measure are also less. Detection, when it comes late, after the insect pest has established itself in the country, will render in eradication of the pest difficult and control almost unachievable.
For instance, the fire ants were present in the US for five years before the first identification of the ants took place after anecdotal evidence. These fire ants pose inconveniences to the public who are prevented from enjoying themselves outdoors. Furthermore, these fire ants affect produce by damaging roots and seeds. Although the fire ants as a pest in the United States have been present only for seventy years, the costs incurred due to the damage to the crops in Texas is of the range of $US 1.5 billion.
According to Waage and Mumford (2008), greater public interest is being diverted to the control and prevention of new diseases and pests being introduced in agriculture. The general impression regarding threats to biosecurity is that they are increasing manifold. The biosecurity methods employed separately for animals and plants conventionally used to differ; however, with time, they are beginning to converge. Resource allocation for biosecurity can be better done using bio-modeling of the pests and threats involved.
Also, the systems that will be deployed for addressing biosecurity issues tomorrow will be different. The authors of the paper suggest three modifications in the realm of biosecurity. They are: integrating both plantand animal approaches to biosecurity, foster greater international cooperation to address issues of biosecurity; and model and design strategies to combat invasion into agroecosystems and pave way for resilience.
Accordingto the “Conversation Media Group (2016)”, as connections between various parts of the world are emerging, the spread of invasive species is also taking place very fast. These pests pose great threat to food security, agriculture, and our ecosystems.
Certain pests that are insects such as the Asian gypsy moth, silver leaf whitefly, and Kara beetle have been designated as serious threats to mankind and can potentially affect agriculture and forest industries to a great extent across the globe.
The authors of the website have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where they have gauged 1,300 fungal pathogens and insects. They have delved into where these pests arenormally found, how trade was influencing their spread, and which crops in different countries are prone to be attacked by the insect pests.
The authors concluded that the developing countries as well as the Sub-saharan African countries were the most prone to attacks by these insect pests.
According to Goldson (2010), science and technology must be brought to the fore in order for the biosecurity programs in NewZealand to improve. Generaladvances in certain aspects are needed such as:
- Sophisticated technology must be deployed for the interception of unwanted species and for surveillance of pests. The sensors and pheromonetraps may be used for surveillances effectively. Forensic technologies using isotopes and DNA can be employed to hasten the identification of threats and origin of pests.
- Statistical models must be developed based on multiple data sets to gauge the risks posed by these invasive pests to agriculture and ecosystems. Ecological understanding must be emphasized on to comprehend the nature of these pests, their effects on ecosystems and their behaviors relevant to New Zealand.
- Also, fumigation, eradication, and containing of pests methods are needed that would also be categorized as socially acceptable and advanced.
Biosafety and Food Security
In Australia, the confidence on the quality and safety of imports and domestic food is deemed a high priority and as essential. When impure, unsafe, and poor-quality food is traded, then the threats posed to mankind, agriculture, and ecosystem of a country is very high. Therefore, legislation is warranted to be imposed to protect the country and its inhabitant from the invasion of pests. There are two acts that caterto these requests. They are the Imported Food Control Act 1992 and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Act 1991. These two acts safeguard food safety in Australia.
Thus, these two acts promote the quality and safety of foods in New Zealand and Australia. Further, they go on to develop consumer confidence in the foods grown in the two countries. The Imported Food Control, an ACT, oversees the quality of imported foods into the countries and has provisions for genetically modified foods to be scrutinized too. These two acts play a vital role in Australia and New Zealand, as these two countries import foods from those regions that are less advanced technically.
Food security not only concerns itself with food safetyand quality; it ensures the supply of safe, adequate, and nutritious food to the citizens of a country. Australia is an affluent nation, and is a second-world country and has enough foodsecurity for its citizens with only few going hungry at times. A reliable supply of food is generally disrupted by political unrest, poverty, natural disasters, droughts, fires, and floods, diseases of crops, and unemployment. Australia, as an influential country, is doing its best to promote food safety and availability in the developing countries too apart from its own. Many genetically modified crops and biotechnologically derived foods also pose great threats to biosecurity. However, many agreements have been sketched by Australia’s top officials to ensure food security as well as food availability.
For instance, the SPS agreement has its basis on the “Codex Alimentarius Commission”, related to processing of various foods, food additives, and residues of pesticides, and the guidelines for sampling. It also lists crops to be checked for pests and parasites and outlines good hygienic methods. The Codex Food Standard (Economic and Social Development Department, nd) is related to additives added to foods. Those substances that may not be included regularly in the diet, but may be add for flavoring or taste are called food additives. These food additives must be controlled and the public made aware of them. The guidelines of the Codex food standard govern the addition of additives to foods such as colors, waxes, and where they might be used along with the conditions permissible during the addition.
The term biosecurity in the Australian and New Zealand context stands for prevention of invasion or establishment of pests in the aquatic and terrestrial environments. Thesepests may cause ample destruction of the flora and fauna, harm the animal and human health, and impact the food industry adversely. Thus, in the context of extended trade and movements of produce across the various regions of the world, there is a heightened necessity to protect the country’s agriculture and ecosystems from the invasion of unwanted organisms. Without firm policies in place, New Zealand and Australia would be impacted to a great degree by weeds and diseases and pests, and productivity and biodiversity would be hampered. Serious public health implications are possible when laws are not enforced to contain the pests from invading.
Biosecurity encompasses efforts to first “contain” the treats by coordinated efforts and then completely try to eradicate the threat (Thomson, 1991). When eradication is not possible, the at least “fine control”of the invasion must be exerted.
While the term biosecurity has different meanings in NewZealand and Australia, it means differently in North America and Europe. In these latter countries, the term means prevention of misuse of biotechnology methods for purposes of terrorism such as the incidence of attack of anthrax in the US in 2001 (Meyerson and Reaser, 2002).
Despite the strides made in the sphere of biosecurity, huge challenges are possibly threatening New Zealand bioecosystems. For instance, the measures to be undertaken in the light of huge numbers of passengers and freight streaming into New Zealand are still ambiguously laid down. We have reached a situation where progress can be made only if recent and advanced technology is made use of to contain the invasion of pests and unwanted organismsin the territory. Coordination, cooperation, and partnerships arethe true essences of the efforts needed to be taken up by regions that want to protect their health and agriculture. More research is warranted in the sphere of biosecurity and the challenges must be comprehended well enough for suitable policies to beframed and implemented (Goldson, 2010).
- Aiken, K., (2001), Fire Ants Raise Quarantine Concern, Landline – AUSTRALIA'S NATIONAL RURAL AFFAIRS WEEKLY.
- Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (2007a). Available at "Current Plant IRAs."
- Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (2007b). Current Animal IRAs.
- Australian Weed Management. 2003. Serrated tussock (Nassellatrichotoma) weed management guide. Available at.
- Australian Weeds Committee. 2007. The Australian Weeds Strategy. Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council.