Opinion

Where does biosecurity fit into our national defence discussions?

By Allan Dingle, Queensland Farmers' Federation President
April 30 2022 - 9:00pm
Where is the investment in biosecurity?

As I sit down to pen this piece, Anzac Day is dawning in Australia. It's a time for reflection on what we have lost; of great sacrifice and momentous courage; of gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy as a nation; and probably most importantly, of what we can do better.

In recent weeks and indeed days, the defence of our nation has stood centre stage in politics and in the media as the complex geo-political world in which we live becomes a focus in election commitments. There is a lot of money being committed to arming our nation and there's a range of good arguments for this.

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But I can't help but wonder if we have missed the point of what the past two years living in a pandemic should have taught us, that one of our most imminent threats is biosecurity. COVID-19 brought our nation to its knees and is still having wide-reaching ramifications on jobs, health and the economy. Sadly, the whole country was impacted and experienced the damage that a virus can do, how quickly it can spread and what happens when we are unprepared.

A virus does not know borders or gates. It just knows hosts.

Strength in biosecurity is vital to protecting our food supply and a sector that is the backbone of the Australian economy. Managing biosecurity on farm and through the supply chain is complex, onerous and costly but absolutely necessary. It is also incredibly challenging with new threats ever present and I point to the recent outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis which is currently a concern to piggeries in Queensland and New South Wales as well as our broader community as a recent example.

So, I ask all our governments today, where is the discussion, over-arching policy and long-term, strategic investment for biosecurity?

Where is the funding and policy for surveillance to protect agriculture? Agricultural industries can be decimated overnight by the sudden arrival of a disease or pest. While Australia has a natural protection through being an island, in a globalised world, we are still vulnerable. The ways of entry for a threat are generally through people arriving with infected product, goods arriving through our ports that may be carrying these diseases/pests, migratory birds, illegal trade of food and plant material and sometimes simply via wind generated by cyclones and other climatic events.

We need a more streamlined and consistent approach to our state borders to prevent diseases spreading interstate. This requires information sharing, early detection and then action. Protection is one aspect; we also need to develop our capacity to respond in case of an outbreak.

The closure of regional laboratories has likely played a role in the fall in diagnostic samples in our animal industries. It is easier to control a small outbreak if detected early and act quickly and we must maintain investment in the vital infrastructure and services needed to build our biosecurity capacity.

On farm protection and surveillance is also a critical, but costly piece of the puzzle. In recent weeks the cost-of-living pressures have been top of mind for us all and the rising cost of food is a concern for consumers. However, the cost of biosecurity on farm must not be scrimped on and it is important that as a nation, we begin to get a more informed understanding of the real costs of production.

Our producers need support to continue to be vigilant and stay viable.

While there has been a focus on preventing African Swine Fever, surveillance of all imminent threats is critical for maximising our biosecurity defences. Currently the warning signs for Lumpy Skin Disease of cattle, African Swine Fever of pigs and Avian Influenza of poultry are present. These diseases have been creeping across the globe and they have now arrived on our doorstep in our northern neighbours of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Queensland Farmers' Federation will continue to work with all levels of government to ensure that biosecurity for agriculture is firmly in their sights and we have a consistent, proactive and cost effective (or cost managed) approach to protecting agriculture. As with other defence areas, biosecurity requires significant attention and investment by all levels of government.

Australian agriculture depends on it.

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