28 May 2019
A report on brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) risk management in Australia was issued today by Australia’s Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Dr Helen Scott-Orr. BMSB is an exotic pest that can infest and damage over 300 host
plants, particularly temperate vegetables, fruits and nuts, and important agricultural crops such as apples, grapes, cotton, citrus, corn, soybeans and tomatoes. It has been spreading around the globe from its native north-east
Asia, to North America and more recently through Europe. “BMSB could cause major losses for the agricultural industries of Australia and New Zealand and both countries are working to keep it out” Dr Scott-Orr said.
Dr Scott-Orr found that efforts by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to keep BMSB out in 2018–19 stretched Australia’s border biosecurity system close to breaking point and had severe impacts on sections of the shipping and importing industries.
She noted that delays and extra costs in cargo ship unloading and cargo release from biosecurity control were significant but unavoidable due to the need to deal with large numbers of arriving BMSB.
These efforts appear to have prevented an incursion in 2018–19, although several border breaches were still under management and surveillance in April 2019. These responses imposed more resourcing demands on the department
and on state government agencies. Extra targeted surveillance and risk mitigation near first ports of entry and cargo depots is needed in order to detect any further border breaches quickly.
Dr Scott-Orr noted that “the department is actively working to handle BMSB risks offshore and minimise disruption to movement of imported goods through the border. However, BMSB’s continued spread means that intensified efforts
on a wider front will be needed to keep it out of Australia”. Due to further overseas spread of BMSB, in 2019–20 at least 15 per cent more incoming cargo will likely need BMSB intervention. More efforts and more resources
will be needed to prevent the type of trade disruption that was seen in 2018–19.
Dr Scott-Orr emphasised that Australia remains at high risk of a BMSB incursion that could prove difficult or impossible to eradicate. She observed that “departmental resourcing is inadequate to meet the BMSB challenge. It
is hard to see this changing unless biosecurity funding is improved by removing arbitrary staff caps for cost-recovered and critical assurance and oversight functions. Diversion of resources from other parts of the biosecurity
system is not sustainable and will increasingly imperil Australia with risks of other severe pest or disease incursions”.
In Dr Scott-Orr’s considered opinion further strategic investment in both people and systems improvement, with surge capacity to handle biosecurity ‘emergencies’ while maintaining ongoing business, is essential into the foreseeable