Christmas shopping could spell a ‘biosecurity nightmare’ for farmers as postal deliveries surge

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Quarantine WA dog Jasper finds some honey.
Camera IconQuarantine WA dog Jasper finds some honey. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Online shopping and posted presents have the potential to become a “biosecurity nightmare” for farmers this Christmas if they carry unwanted gifts — in the form of pests, diseases and weeds — into the State.

WA’s frontline biosecurity defences are focusing on mail in the lead-up to Christmas, with a new Quarantine WA inspector and detector dog dedicated to undertaking the screening of freight and mail at freight yards and Australia Post locations in Perth.

The reduced number of interstate passenger flights arriving into WA has provided a biosecurity boon for the State by freeing up additional inspectors and detector dogs to support freight and mail screening during the Christmas period.

Minister Alannah Mactiernan at the Australia Post Welshpool freight facility. Rebecca Coates, Senior Quarantine Inspector and Dog Handler with Detector Dog Jasper 6yo.
Camera IconRebecca Coates, senior quarantine inspector and dog handler with detector dog Jasper. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

WA Minister for Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan said Christmas was “peak time” for Quarantine WA inspectors because of the surge in mailed presents and online shopping which could pose a risk to WA’s $11 billion agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries industries.

People have been urged to avoid sending fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, seeds, plants, bunches of flowers or walnuts in their shells into WA this Christmas because of the biosecurity risk they pose.

“Having a dedicated quarantine officer and detector dog screening our mail and freight helps us stay on top of the fight against unwanted pests, diseases and weeds coming into our State,” Ms MacTiernan said.

Minister Alannah Mactiernan at the Australia Post Welshpool freight facility.
Camera IconMinister Alannah Mactiernan at the Australia Post Welshpool freight facility. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

“Many people are unaware that popular Christmas produce like cherries, stone fruit, honey, walnuts in shell and flowers pose a major biosecurity risk to our State, potentially carrying highly destructive pests and diseases into our community.

“Unwanted pests and diseases can increase costs for primary producers and disrupt export and domestic trade for agriculture, forest, aquaculture and commercial fishing, as well as affect our unique environment, biodiversity and way of life.”

Quarantine WA detector dogs screened nearly 600,000 mail items between July 1 and September this year, intercepting risk items including 4.2kg of mangoes, 15km of Asian cucumbers and rockmelons, three bunches of lychees, and two bunches of longans.

Plant Health Australia chief executive Sarah Corcoran said 20-40 per cent of crops were lost to pests and diseases each year.

“When considering the impacts of pests and diseases in the context of the invasion curve, the return on investment in prevention at the beginning of the curve is higher than the economic return of ongoing management,” she said.

“Good biosecurity practices enable producers to identify and reduce the risks posed by diseases, pests and weeds. Biosecurity is part of the Australian value proposition, adding value to our highly reputable agricultural products both domestically and internationally.

“This makes a strong case for continued investment in preparedness activities.

To find out more about quarantine requirements for WA, visit agric.wa.gov.au.

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