Ebola not our only biosecurity concern: bees, wheat and others on the agenda

Tuesday, 25 November, 2014

Ebola isn’t the only potential biosecurity threat troubling Australia: the decline of our European honey bee population and a devastating wheat disease are also threats we need to watch out for, according to a new CSIRO report.

While Australia has largely been able to maintain an enviable biosecurity status due to being an island nation, experts have identified 12 biosecurity megashocks in the ‘Australia’s Biosecurity Future’ report. They warn that these threats could become reality if we become complacent about our biosecurity measures.

“Dominating the news right now is the Ebola virus crisis, which is an obvious global health concern,” said CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Science Director Dr Gary Fitt.

“Meanwhile, farmers near Katherine, in the Northern Territory, are dealing with an outbreak of a new disease - Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic Virus - and while not fatal to people like Ebola, this virus is devastating their crops, which has severe financial impacts.

“If there was a significant decline in European honey bee populations across Australia in the future, for example, this would impact our economy with losses of around $4-6 billion. Losing this free pollination service would severely impact production of several fruit and vegetables, including avocados and almonds.”

Global megatrends like the need to produce more food for our growing population while dealing with pressures on soil, water and biodiversity resources will introduce new challenges for our plant and animal industries. The scientists say our existing biosecurity processes and practices may not be sufficient to protect Australian industry.

The megashocks include:

  • Nationwide incursion of a new race of an exotic wheat stem rust that is more virulent than existing races of UG99.
  • Nationwide loss of pollination services from feral European honey bees due to a multistate varroa mite incursion.
  • Nationwide incursion of a new exotic fruit fly.
  • Nationwide outbreak of a variant strain of foot and mouth disease.
  • Bluetongue outbreak across Australia’s major sheep producing regions.
  • Highly virulent rust spreads across multiple ecosystems.
  • Government ‘walks away’ from environmental biosecurity.
  • Successful establishment of black-striped mussel.
  • Outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia.
  • Nationwide zoonotic disease epidemic.
  • Bioterrorist attack.
  • A rapid spike in antimicrobial resistance.

“The management of biosecurity will require a change towards smarter and more efficient strategies that are ideally ahead of the pace of change around the world,” said Professor Kurt Zuelke, Director CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship and Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

“Australia should not rely on its relatively fortunate history and become complacent in the face of growing biosecurity challenges.

“Minimising and managing risks while taking advantage of the opportunities that a successful biosecurity system presents will only be possible through a coordinated approach involving government, industry, scientists and the general public - a shared responsibility.”

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