Biosecurity Strategy for Victoria part 2
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A new biosecurity future for Victoria
As a community we are very fortunate. Victoria is a beautiful and bountiful region of Australia. One-third of the state is designated as public land, which includes desert and alpine national parks.
The four million hectares of wilderness, state and regional parks contain plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Our sea border runs from the rugged ‘shipwreck coast’ in the west to the magnificent Wilsons Promontory and secluded beaches in the south and east. Nestled between these diverse landscapes are agricultural lands that are some of the most productive in Australia, thriving country towns and cosmopolitan Melbourne.
Fortunately, Victoria remains free from many of the harmful pests and diseases that affect agriculture and the natural environment in other places, nationally and internationally. This situation is no accident and cannot be maintained without commitment and dedication. Our agricultural industries have access to premium world markets based on Victoria’s favourable pest and disease status, and are therefore vulnerable to outbreaks of exotic pests and diseases that may have major effects on trade and market access, as well as production.
Australia has witnessed the potential for biological threats to have significant effects on environmental assets (abalone virus); community activity (equine influenza); human health (Hendra virus); trade (alleged Karnal bunt infestation of exported wheat); on public enjoyment of the environment (fire ants); and on personal assets (European house borer).
Effective biosecurity systems that address these threats are essential to protecting our way of life, and the agricultural and environmental assets we enjoy and value.
Foot-and-mouth disease – Understanding the consequences of an incursion
If foot-and-mouth disease were to be found anywhere in Australia, in addition to the enormous and probably sustained emergency response required, it would cause:
- immediate prohibition of the export of most meat, livestock and dairy products
- loss of export revenue of $9 billion in the first year
- a 3.5 per cent decrease in national gross domestic product (GDP)
- a 1 per cent increase in unemployment
- severe disruption to regional and rural communities and tourism in all areas
- recovery costs of billions of dollars over several years
Biosecurity is inherently complex and uncertain. Jurisdictions around the world are grappling with the challenges of delivering biosecurity in an increasingly risky environment, and across expanding range of threats.
Victoria can be proud of its biosecurity management to date, which was recognised in the Victorian Auditor-General’s recent report into planning and risk management for livestock diseases.  The report highlighted Victoria as a leader in biosecurity risk management and acknowledged its well-developed planning and risk management systems (for managing biosecurity in livestock diseases). Our response to the recent equine influenza, anthrax and fruit fly outbreaks, the Mexican feather grass incursion and other similar incidents has been world-class, effective and professional. However, the Auditor-General also acknowledged significant challenges in biosecurity risk management in the future. Further action is needed to deal with the predicted increase in the incidence of biosecurity incursions and the complexities presented by new and emerging biosecurity threats.
Our natural and built ecosystems and our primary industries are operating in an environment of continual change. Climate change, global trade and travel, changing patterns of land use, and human and livestock encroachment into wildlife habitats are altering the risks faced by agricultural industries and the environment. Increasingly, the threats we face have not been faced before. Internationally, there is limited experience and scant information on which to make decisions about preventing, preparing for and responding to the changing nature of biosecurity risks.
To address these challenges and position Victoria for the future, there must be a significant reassessment of Victoria’s biosecurity arrangements. We need to expand our view of biosecurity from the traditional focus on agricultural industries to a broader range of pests and diseases, with potential impacts on the economy, environment and society. We need to ensure we better integrate and prioritise activity towards risks with potentially significant impact and those with the highest likelihood of occurring. Farmers and resource managers, industry and the community need to be more effectively involved in identifying, prioritising, resourcing and implementing biosecurity actions.
The Victorian Government will continue to lead research, development and practice change activities and implement regulations to support, enhance and develop its core programs of biosecurity activity. It is also committed to its ongoing role as land and water manager and custodian – protecting values of the public estate from the impact of potential and existing biosecurity threats. However, government alone cannot do everything required to ensure a biosecure future for Victoria.
Traditionally, industry and individual producers have invested in risk-management strategies when biosecurity issues directly threaten their profitability or market access. However, it is clear that, more than ever before, farmers, resource managers and industry must play an increasing role in protecting Victoria. This includes an understanding of responsibilities around duty of care to other landholders and the community; demonstrable support for and participation in biosecurity activities aimed at protecting their own businesses, assets and other interests; and the development and implementation of effective biosecurity systems that are embedded into routine practice.
Everyone in the community has a role in reporting possible pest or disease outbreaks or other unusual events, and in cooperating with biosecurity program requirements. This strategy sets broad directions and signals new, more collaborative approaches for the future management of biosecurity in Victoria.
A future of changing risks and threats
The biosecurity environment in Victoria is becoming more complex as trade volumes and patterns, migration, tourism, land use, agricultural practices and climate change evolve and interact.
Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are expected to result in alterations to the pattern of temperature, rainfall (frequency, volume and distribution), solar radiation, humidity and evaporation experienced across Victoria. The main effects of climate change are likely to be increased variability in all weather parameters, higher temperatures and less average annual rainfall (but more summer rainfall in some areas). There are likely to be fewer frosts, more extreme wind and fire events, and more high-intensity rainfall. The magnitude of these effects will vary with region and distance from the coast.
These changes in climate may favour the establishment and propagation of some biosecurity threats, but limit the distribution and impact of others. For example, organisms that cause disease in pasture plants are generally less aggressive in conditions of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide, but plant consumption by insects stays the same. Insect lifecycles, population dynamics and geographic distributions are likely to alter as a result of climate change, affecting the horticulture, grains and cropping industries. The extent to which weed species will spread and the extent of their possible impact on scarce resources, such as water, remains unclear. Aggressive tropical and subtropical species (e.g. parthenium and Siam weed) may more easily spread south as the climate becomes milder.
The effects of climate change on animal and plant diseases will be greatest on those diseases that live for a period of time outside their main host. This is when they are most influenced by climatic conditions. The range and frequency of diseases such as bluetongue, bovine ephemeral fever and dengue may alter, as may the risk of establishment of exotic diseases and their vectors, such as Chikungunya, Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito), Xylella fastidiosa (Pierce’s disease of grapevines) carried by glassy-winged sharpshooters, and the Asian citrus psyllid.
In temperate Australia, the predicted increase in winter temperatures and summer rainfall could extend the breeding season of mosquito species responsible for serious human disease, resulting in increased incidence of epidemic polyarthritis (Ross River virus disease), and possible but less predictable changes to the incidence of Murray Valley encephalitis virus. Likewise, both human and animal tick-borne and bacterial disease profiles in areas of Victoria could change dramatically. One thing is clear – climate change will introduce uncertainties about pest and disease behaviour in the future.
Chikungunya virus – Monitoring the range of a new threat
Chikungunya fever is a viral disease caused by the chikungunya virus (CHIKV), which is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on people or animals, such as monkeys, that are infected with CHIKV. Symptoms in humans include severe joint pains and sometimes debilitating illness, most often characterised by fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash and joint pain.
The current geographic range of CHIKV includes much of Africa and Asia, but is expanding towards northern Australia. The range of this disease may be altered and extended significantly by the effects of climate change and the distribution of carrier mosquitoes, such as the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).
Projected changes in temperature for Victoria
Projected changes in rainfall for Victoria
Eucalyptus rust – Managing the risks and pathways into Australia
With over 700 species, the genus Eucalyptus dominates many Australian landscapes and is internationally renowned as a symbol of Australia. Eucalypts are the foundation of many of Victoria’s ecosystems — they grace our gardens and parks, and are the basis of a strong native forest and plantation timber industry across Australia. Worldwide, eucalypts are recognised as an important hardwood forest plantation tree and are grown in many countries.
Eucalyptus rust (or guava rust) is a serious disease caused by the fungus Puccinia psidii. The pathogen has a very wide host range in the plant family Myrtaceae, which includes eucalypts (Eucalyptus and Corymbia), bottlebrushes (Callistemon) and paperbarks (Melaleuca). First reported in Brazil, the disease has spread to North America and Hawaii.
P. psidii causes disease of young shoots, flower buds and young fruit, depending on the host plant. The disease is particularly severe on susceptible eucalypt seedlings, cuttings, young trees and coppiced or damaged mature trees. Infected leaves become deformed and eventually shrivel, with heavy defoliation, stunted growth or even death resulting from severe infestations.
Likely pathways of introduction of the rust to Australia include seeds, nursery stock, timber and wood packaging material, including dunnage (protective packaging material) with attached bark. It could also be introduced into Australia on clothing or in luggage, in particular with tourists who have visited forest areas or plantations in countries with eucalyptus rust. Once introduced, the rust could spread rapidly via wind dispersal of spores.
If eucalyptus rust becomes established in Australia, it will have devastating socioeconomic and environmental impacts on our native ecosystems, managed plantations and urban flora, with indirect effects on native fauna and human lifestyles.
Biosecurity exposure in marine and environmental management areas warrants specific attention.
World trade and travel
World trade is expanding rapidly, the movement of goods is becoming faster and easier, and trade routes are changing as new economies emerge. Australia’s demand for goods produced overseas is also expanding. Although Australia’s border quarantine procedures are robust, they cannot eliminate all risk. The increased influx of goods into Victoria from around the world – the Asian sub-continent in particular – poses significant biosecurity threats. These countries host many new and emerging diseases, yet they lack the resources to manage biosecurity challenges and, in some situations, poor socioeconomic conditions increase the risk. The intensification of shipping and shorter (faster) voyages through waters known to be high-risk environments increase the risk to our marine environment from ballast contaminants and hull-fouling species.
People are travelling further and more frequently than ever before, for work, education, recreation and tourism. The use of contract labour within primary industries is increasing, meaning that workers are now moving between similar farming enterprises in widely separated countries, quickly and regularly.
Illegal introductions of plant and animal materials and smuggling have always been a problem for quarantine authorities, and modern communications (e.g. the internet) facilitate trade in exotic animal and plant species for pets, domestic and commercial use, which increases the risk of biosecurity threats entering Victoria.
Increasing human and livestock encroachment into wildlife habitat
Most of the recently emerged human diseases have an animal connection. As humans and their livestock encroach further onto wildlife habitats, new diseases with potentially serious consequences are appearing. Approximately 60 per cent of existing human pathogens, and more than 75 per cent of those that have appeared during the past two decades, can be traced back to animals.
Many of these diseases have been linked to wildlife. For example, approximately 60 virus species are associated with bats. Almost all are viruses implicated in emerging and re-emerging infections in humans. The prime examples of these are the lyssaviruses, the henipaviruses (Hendra and Nipah), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), coronavirus and the filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg).
Other factors, such as reduced wildlife habitat, and an increase in eco-tourism bringing more visitors to ‘wild’ areas, mean that there are contacts between wildlife, domestic animals and humans that are unprecedented in scale. This situation has the potential to result in the evolution of new organisms or more virulent strains of currently recognised pathogens.
Hendra virus – Watching for new threats from wildlife sources
In 1994, a new and previously unreported disease appeared in horses in Queensland. The disease was caused by a virus, now known as Hendra, which has been responsible for the deaths of three people, the infection of a further three, and the death of approximately 30 horses. The last cases in humans and horses were reported as recently as July 2008.
With nothing known of Hendra virus around the world, Australia’s best scientists joined international experts to find the cause of the disease, research its characteristics and identify management strategies.
Flying foxes are now known to be the natural host for Hendra virus. The virus is carried by the bats, but has little effect on them. However, when it is transmitted to horses and humans it can be deadly – the reported mortality rate in horses is more than 70 per cent. It is not yet clear how the virus is transmitted to horses, but it may be via food contaminated by bat urine or birthing products. Transfer from horses to humans occurs via blood or other body fluids, such as respiratory and nasal secretions, saliva and urine.
New diseases are unpredictable in terms of where and when they might appear, so it is extremely difficult to prepare for them. Diseases of wildlife are particularly challenging because animal populations roam and disperse widely, particularly mobile species like bats, and have complex natural interactions with other species.
Changed agricultural, socioeconomic and political conditions
The intensification of traditional agriculture and the development of new agricultural industries (based on animals and plants not farmed in the past) have led to the emergence of new invasive species and new diseases or disease mutations. Such mutations can result in once mild diseases becoming virulent under intensive cultivation or production.
Peri-urban development, the growth in amenity (or lifestyle) farming enterprises in rural communities, the culture of non-traditional crops or livestock and other new patterns of land use all present challenges for biosecurity managers in government and industry. Ensuring that pests, disease or serious weed infestations are recognised and responded to appropriately can be challenging. Engaging effectively with diverse groups of stakeholders requires significant time and resources.
Changing community and consumer expectations mean greater demand for variety and availability of food, garden and amenity plants, and for new and exotic pets. Fulfilling this demand creates new pathways for the introduction of pests and disease to the primary industries and environmental sectors.
At the other end of the spectrum, when agricultural activities cease – for example because of changed demand for product, sale of the water rights from the property or retirement of the farmer – the remnant ‘abandoned’ agriculture can become a hazard for neighbouring farms. With no-one to manage the trees, vines or livestock, they can become feral. Infection with pests or diseases may go unrecognised until they spread to neighbouring properties and new locations.
These factors, individually and in combination, are creating a new biosecurity risk profile for Victoria.
Chytridiomycosis – Managing the impacts of new threats to wildlife
Chytridiomycosis is an infectious disease that affects amphibians worldwide. This chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was first discovered in Australia in dead and dying frogs in Queensland in 1993. It causes sporadic deaths in some amphibian populations and total extinction in others.
B. dendrobatidis is not native to Australia. It probably arrived in southeast Queensland in the mid-1970s on imported specimens of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Either the frogs themselves or water that had been in contact with affected frogs may have escaped from captivity, allowing the fungus to become established in wild populations. Imported exotic pet amphibians (axolotyls) have also been infected.
Chytridiomycosis has been implicated in the mass die-offs and species extinctions of frogs in the past 15 years, but its true impact on frog populations remains unclear. Research is continuing into the origin and spread of the fungus, its impact on frog populations and environmental factors that may make frogs more susceptible to the disease.
A new biosecurity strategy for Victoria
Resources traditionally required to manage biosecurity in the agricultural production sector will be insufficient to deal with new and emerging biosecurity threats, and the broader focus of environmental and social responsibilities within biosecurity.
Different strategies and capabilities are required, including a wider range of technical expertise in policy development, the laboratory and field operations. We will need specialist skills in surveillance, risk assessment and policy. Specialised processes will need to be developed for responses to incursions in the amenity and environmental sectors, and the marine and freshwater environments.
It is important that Victoria’s community, industry and natural environment continue to be protected with a level of resources that matches the benefits. In the face of threats from so many sources, Victoria requires a biosecurity risk-management system that will identify and prioritise known threats and help prepare for the unknown. We need a whole-of-government, indeed whole-of-community, perspective; a systematic, creative and transparent approach to identifying threats and developing options for prevention and management.
We need a new, integrated approach that considers the system in its entirety, covering biosecurity risks and threats across all sectors. The principles that underpin the new approach to biosecurity are clear:
- no government or stakeholder, no matter how well resourced or prepared, can act alone in managing and responding to biosecurity threats
- biosecurity threats recognise no boundaries and need to be addressed at multiple levels
- the system cannot guarantee ‘zero risk’ of biosecurity incidents, as new pests and diseases can emerge at any time without warning, however, the earlier new threats and issues are detected, the greater the chance of successfully and costeffectively managing them.
To achieve this, the Victorian Government will refocus its current programs to develop a forward-looking, flexible, innovative biosecurity system that will:
- ensure government, industry and community are partners who understand and respect each others’ roles and responsibilities
- be underpinned by a risk-management framework, including clear, transparent and consultative processes for decision making and investment
- use the best science and technology to develop innovative and cost-effective solutions to biosecurity problems
- ensure incursion response planning and delivery is timely, professional and effective
- identify suitable funding sources, including cost sharing where appropriate, to support biosecurity activity
- ensure a process for continuous improvement, including periodic reviews of the biosecurity strategy and evaluation of activities.
The Victorian Government’s new approach is encapsulated in a vision of collaboration between government, industry and the community to manage the state’s biosecurity risk profile. This vision is articulated through six themes:
- Theme 1 – Developing partnerships
- Theme 2 – Strengthening the coverage – addressing the challenges
- Theme 3 – Making sound decisions and investments
- Theme 4 – Building the biosecurity skill base and systems
- Theme 5 – Smarter surveillance
- Theme 6 – Responding to incursions.
This biosecurity strategy for Victoria sets new directions for biosecurity activity and reflects the Victorian Government’s commitment to working with industry and the wider community. The strategy aims to protect human health, primary industries, and the natural and built environment from impacts due to animal or plant pests, diseases and invasive plants and animals. It will provide a strong and focused direction for Victoria as together, we face the biosecurity challenges of the future.
The Victorian Government’s new approach is encapsulated in a vision of collaboration between government, industry and community to manage the state’s biosecurity risk profile.