Biosecurity high alert against African Swine Fever

23 December 2019

(Issued by Department of Agriculture)

Australians travelling to Bali or heading elsewhere overseas for holidays can expect unprecedented airport scrutiny on their way back into Australia as biosecurity officers step up defences against African swine fever (ASF).

Following confirmation of ASF in North Sumatra and concerns the devastating pig disease is present in other Indonesian provinces--having already reached Vietnam, Timor Leste, Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia--Australian biosecurity officials are on high alert for any ASF breach.

“With ASF edging nearer and posing a threat that would cripple our $5.2 billion pork industry, as well as threaten our trade reputation, environment and economy, we are asking Australians and international visitors to be on guard over the coming months,” said Agriculture Department biosecurity head Lyn O’Connell.

“Summer is when our ports, airports and mail centres are busiest, but this holiday season will require extra vigilance from everyone as ASF is spreading and adds to pest and disease threats that could devastate our environment, health and agricultural industries.

“If you’re going overseas, think hard about what you bring back and if you visit a farm or go off track to a rural area, declare it when you come home and avoid bringing high-risk products in your luggage and remove potentially contaminated soil on your shoes and camping gear.”

African swine fever is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic and wild pigs that has established itself in Asia and parts of Europe, and continues to spread. While the disease does not affect humans, ASF kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects, with serious repercussions for the global food chain.

Biosecurity searches are being stepped up since ASF was reported in Indonesia this month and Timor-Leste in September, with the government boosting biosecurity funding by $66.6 million to arrest the threat.

Extra funding will see more officers, detector dogs and high-tech three-dimensional x-ray machines on the front line of airports and mail centres, with international passengers including Australians arriving home from Bali being warned to declare or risk heavy penalties and fines.

Around 130 extra frontline biosecurity officers will be deployed over summer to do half a million more passenger screenings a year, while detector dogs are in place at airports including Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Darwin.

Biosecurity officers will continue to have a no tolerance policy, and issue infringements for deliberate non-compliance with biosecurity rules at ports and airports, while a new biosecurity squad will check products brought into Australia for sale.

Arriving passengers, Ms. O’Connell said, can expect extra questions and detector dogs on duty to maximise detection of high-risk products, with ASF signage, social media, and audio and video warnings, ramped up on all flights.

The Department of Agriculture has written to airlines and cruise ship operators ahead of Christmas to place ASF information in airports, in-flight and in passenger cabins.

“International passengers are a major risk path and over 235,000 biosecurity risk items were intercepted across Australia’s international airports between January and October,” said Ms. O’Connell.

“We’re asking all Australians and international visitors to help protect Australia from serious biosecurity risks by being aware of what they can and can’t send or carry into Australia from overseas, especially high risk food items like pork and scraps that can carry ASF through our front door.”

For more information on what can and cannot be brought into Australia, visit agriculture.gov.au/travelling

FAST FACTS

  • Bali is a favourite overseas holiday spot for Australian travellers, along with Bangkok, Singapore and other destinations in Southeast Asia. The Indonesian resort island is especially popular over the peak summer holiday months, and is home also to many domestic swineherds.
  • Jerky, biltong and other smallgoods containing pork are not permitted into Australia. They can’t be brought in by international passengers or sent through the mail, as they pose a high biosecurity risk and can carry ASF.
  • Biosecurity officers are focusing on pork and other meat products. Travellers who provide false or misleading information can receive an infringement with a penalty amount of $420 or be referred for civil penalty proceedings or criminal prosecution