AUSTRALIA'S strict quarantine and biosecurity systems have again proved their worth, with intercepted cargo detecting positive traces of deadly livestock diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF) and foot and mouth disease (FMD) while plants known to be hosts of the horticultural disease xylella were also seized.
Alarmingly, some 24 per cent pork products seized at international mail centres in a blitz between Christmas and Chinese New Year in February were found to have fragments of ASF while 1pc had FMD traces.
The interceptions do not alter Australia's ASF and FMD-free status.
Between 5 November 2018 and 31 December 2020, 42.8 tonnes of pork products were intercepted on air travellers and 9.4 tonnes was intercepted in mail items at the Australian border.
Federal minister for agriculture David Littleproud, said FMD could cost Australia's livestock sector $50 billion over 10 years.
"An outbreak of FMD in Australia would lead to the closure of major livestock, beef, lamb, dairy and pork export markets with serious economic and social effects in other sectors, including tourism," Mr Littleproud said.
"Studies have estimated a large multi-state outbreak of FMD in Australia could result in economic losses of $ 50 billion dollars over 10 years and an outbreak of ASF could cost Australia $ 1.5 to 2.03 billion dollars over 5 years.
His comments were backed up by acting chief veterinary officer for Victoria Sally Salmon who said the recent detections by the Commonwealth highlighted how easily diseases and pests could enter Australia.
She urged all Australians to make conscious choices when purchasing food from overseas.
"It's not enough to rely on quarantine inspections to stop potential pests and disease threats at our borders," Dr Salmon said.
"When buying food and other goods online, always consider where they are coming from and whether they will meet biosecurity requirements before ordering them."
Mr Littleproud said the nation's quarantine and biosecurity services were fully prepared should an incursion occur.
"We are ready to respond should ASF or FMD ever be detected here, including recently running simulation exercises for the Australian pork industry," he said.
He said government recognised the importance of keeping disease out, and had contributed $66.6 million to minimise the risk of ASF.
ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that affects pigs, resulting in a very high mortality rate.
FMD is an issue over a wider range of animals, with the potential to harm all cloven-hoofed animals including buffalo, pigs, cattle, sheep, deer, camelids and goats.
It is capable of extremely rapid spread. Cattle are most susceptible, though pigs spread the disease fastest.
On the horticulture front, the blitz garnered two packages containing plants that are known hosts of Xylella fastidiosa at the Sydney mail centre.
Xylella is Australia's number one priority plant pest, with an incursion having the potential to cost wine grape and wine-making industries up to $7.9 billion over 50 years
One of the packages contained live asparagales shrub plants with heavy fungal growth and bacterial contamination, the other contained fig cuttings.
"Both of these plant species are known hosts of Xylella, which shows that this devastating plant disease does pose a real and significant risk for Australia," Mr Littleproud said.
He said it was not just a concern to viticulturalists.
"Xylella is a high priority pest for 10 industries, including cherries, citrus, tree nuts, production nurseries, summerfruit along with viticulture.
"It can also impact significantly on a wide range of native plants," he said.
The Xylella bacteria kills plants by damaging the water conducting system in plants, which appears as leaf scorching.