Christmas biosecurity risks unwrapped

20 December 2019

(Issued by the Department of Agriculture)

Instead of bringing Christmas cheer, some gifts that arrive from overseas this holiday season could bring pests and diseases that can devastate our unique environment and agricultural industries as well as put human health at risk.

Head of Biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Lyn O’Connell, said both senders and receivers of international mail or parcels need to be aware of our strict biosecurity conditions.

“In the lead up to the holiday period there is a significant increase in international mail items arriving and each year several thousand mail items are intercepted because of biosecurity risk,” Ms O’Connell said.

“This includes Christmas items such as conifer, spruce, holly, mistletoe, pine cones, vine wreaths, straw and raw nuts, which can all pose a biosecurity risk.

“From January to October this year around 87 million mail items moved through our mail centres and the most common risk items intercepted were seeds, meat and other animal products such as pet treats.

“International passengers kept Australia’s biosecurity officers on their toes in 2019, with over 235,000 biosecurity risk items intercepted across Australia’s international airports between January and October.

“Of these, over 50,000 biosecurity risk items were intercepted at Melbourne airport, over 34,000 items were intercepted at Perth International Airport and over 80,000 items were intercepted at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport

“Australia’s biosecurity officers have intercepted a range of items that could carry dangerous pests and diseases, including pork, tarantulas, live fish, reptiles, turtles, fertilisers, plants, seeds and various fresh and preserved foods.

“The top three biosecurity risk items intercepted at airports included salami, sausages and contaminated footwear.

“Everyone can do their part to protect Australia from biosecurity risks by being aware of what can and cannot be sent to Australia from overseas.

“It is especially concerning that there was an increased number of passengers bringing high risk food items—like meat and fruit—into Australia over the past year, especially with African swine fever (ASF) right on our doorstep in Timor-Leste.

“Our biosecurity system safeguards our environment, industries, animal, plant and human health from exotic pest and disease risks like ASF. It also underpins the productivity and sustainability of our agricultural industries.

“By being aware of the risk items, passengers can help Australia maintain its global reputation for producing high quality food and protect our unique environment.

“Those who fail to declare risk items on their incoming passenger card risk significant financial penalties and in some cases prosecution and visa cancellations.

“If you are also expecting to receive presents or Christmas items from friends and family overseas, make sure you educate them on our conditions so your items can arrive safely.”

For more information on what can and cannot be brought into Australia, visit