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Proposed research centre answers call to national plant biosecurity

Media Release: 29 July 2004

A proposed research centre offers new hope to the nation's plant quarantine system, promising to save Australia millions of dollars against pest and disease outbreaks such as the recent citrus canker outbreak in Queensland.

"Australia's plant industries have a farm gate value of around $14 billion annually, yet we are currently lacking in a coordinated scientific body to underpin national biosecurity efforts in plant quarantine areas," Professor John Lovett, Chair of the CRC Steering Committee, said today.

The proposed Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity, competing in the current round of Federal CRC funding, promises to address the biosecurity needs of Australia's plant industries by:

  • reducing the incidence of harmful plant pest incursions through risk-weighted, science-based decision making;
  • developing a world class biosecurity capability for early identification of emergency plant pest and pathogen incursions ; and
  • establishing more effective national surveillance systems.

"We need only look at the recent citrus canker outbreak in Queensland or the papaya fruit fly outbreak from a few years ago to see the devastating effects that pest and disease incursions can have on Australian agricultural industries," Professor Lovett said.

The cost of the citrus canker outbreak is currently estimated at about $10 million while the papaya fruit fly outbreak in 1995 cost $65 million to eradicate.

Recent studies have estimated the devastating welfare losses (in net present value terms) that could occur in just a small number of other plant industries if serious foreign plant pests became established in Australia:

  • Ramu Stunt disease of sugar cane could cost the Burdekin Valley over $8 billion
  • Karnal bunt of wheat could cost Australia $11 billion
  • Fire blight of apples could cost the Goulburn Valley $870 million
  • Moko disease of banana could cost the Tully Valley region over $330 million

"Preparedness against these and other exotic diseases is vital to ensure the future of Australia's agricultural industries," Professor Lovett, said.

He added that: "a recent economic assessment of the value of the proposed Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity indicated that the CRC would have to achieve relatively minor reductions in the risk of disease and pest outbreaks to pay for itself several times over".

The importance of biosecurity to Australian agriculture was recently highlighted by Warren Truss, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who said "adequate biosecurity remained one of the major challenges facing the competitiveness of Australia's industries".

Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Gavan O'Connor, has also highlighted the role that a cooperative research centre could play to managing biosecurity issues.