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Australia: Close encounter with Asian gypsy moth

The Head of Biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), Lyn O’Connell, reminded the country of the threat posed by sailing vessels to national biosecurity this week. “Around 500 non-commercial boats/yachts and 19,000 commercial vessels arrive in Australia each year and many of these have the potential to carry exotic pests and diseases,” Ms O’Connell said on 7 July 2020. An Asian gypsy moth’s egg mass was recently discovered during a routine vessel inspection on a bulk carrier vessel arriving into Australia. Bulk carriers typically carry loose cargo including grains, ores, coal and even cement.

by Gabrielle Stannus

The Asian gypsy moth ( Lymantria dispar asiatia) is a National Priority Plant Pest, given the potential threat it poses to growers of apples, pears, forestry and nuts, as well as production nurseries1. Gypsy moths are aggressive invaders. Whilst Asian gypsy moth caterpillars can spread via host plants and wind, adult females can fly up to 40 km, allowing them to lay their eggs on cargo, ships and aircraft, which may disperse them internationally.2

“The moth’s caterpillars feed on the leaves of more than 600 species of trees, such as oak, birch, aspen, eucalyptus, holly, rose, fruit trees and ornamental plants,” said Ms O’Connell, “The spread of exotic pests and diseases, like this moth and its larvae, could have devastating impacts on our agribusiness and horticultural industries.”

Onshore Biosecurity Levy
However, this sentiment is at odds with the Federal Government’s recent decision not to proceed with its proposed Onshore Biosecurity Levy. In 2017, an independent panel recommended that funding for the national biosecurity system be increased through several measures, to better share the costs with the risk creators. These measures included, but were not limited to, the implementation of a per-container levy on incoming shipping containers of $10 per twenty-foot equivalent unit and a levy of $5 on incoming air containers.

Full Import Declarations
This panel alternatively recommended that the Federal Government could supplement the charge on Full Import Declarations (FIDs) with a levy to collect a similar amount to the proposed container charge. Information provided to this panel by the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection was that there were around 4.1 million FIDs in 2015-16. Therefore, the levy required would need to be in the order of $10 per FID4. However, before deciding to proceed with such a mechanism, DAWE should look to our nearest neighbour to see whether their experience of a biosecurity levy on imports could be replicated here.

New Zealand’s Biosecurity System Entry Levy
New Zealand have had an onshore biosecurity levy in place for close to a decade. “The Biosecurity System Entry Levy (BSEL) Order 2010 recovers Biosecurity New Zealand’s costs associated with the clearance of imported goods at the border,” a spokesperson for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said, “The BSEL is collected on all imported goods that have an import entry or equivalent documentation lodged with NZ Customs.”

The MPI spokesperson says that the BSEL is used to cover the costs of:

  • Obtaining and analysing data to develop and monitor risk profiles and place alerts
  • Primary screening of sea and air cargo manifests for biosecurity risk goods:
  • Intervention monitoring programmes, slippage surveys, and baseline auditing of the compliance of imported goods with import health standards
  • Surveillance activities around sea and airports and high-risk places related to preventing the establishment of pests and unwanted organisms that may be introduced by imported goods
  • Facilitating the movement of consignments away from ports approved as places of first arrival
  • The 15 minutes of secondary risk assessment for consignments identified in primary screening and issuing authorisation of movement and biosecurity clearance documentation, and
  • Administering and collecting the levy.

Biosecurity New Zealand claims that charging importers is appropriate because they create the biosecurity risk that services funded by the BSEL are designed to manage. Importers are also the direct beneficiaries of the services that allow them to bring their goods into New Zealand. Charging the importer also supports efficiency, as it provides incentives for importers to take steps to reduce risk, which avoids extra inspection charges. This is equitable as it ensures that those that benefit more and create more risk pay more of the costs3.

Who is paying now?
Here in Australia, the Greenlife Industry is committed to sharing our load of the national biosecurity responsibility. The industry has invested in excess of $5.7 million in biosecurity focused projects including the National Nursery Industry Biosecurity Program (NY15004) and the Improving Pest Management for the Nursery Industry (NY17009) project and in funding response plans including Tomato potato psyllid, Citrus canker, Banana freckle and Brown Marmorated stink bug. Greenlife Industry Australia is also a signatory to the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD), a formal legally binding agreement between Plant Health Australia (PHA), the Australian Government, all state and territory governments and national plant industry body signatories. This deed covers the management and funding of responses to EPP incidents, including the potential for owner reimbursement costs for growers. 0.25% of the Nursery Levy is funnelled into plant health to help fund these responses.

Greenlife Industry Australia
Greenlife Industry Australia believes that risk creators and risk beneficiaries should contribute more fully to the cost of risk management measures in proportion to the risks they create and/or benefits they gain. A serious biosecurity incursion, such as that posed by the Asian gypsy moth, via imports not associated with our industry could cost Greenlife businesses greatly. These costs could include loss of sales revenue due to loss of access to markets (national or international), or because of lower product quality and/or higher costs of production. We will therefore continue to work with the Federal Government to find alternative mechanisms to ensure that importers bringing in products that place other industries at risk share the financial responsibility for national biosecurity.


1. Plant Health Australia 2019, National Plant Biosecurity Status Report 2018 [JM1] , Canberra, ACT, viewed 7 July 2020, (p50)

2. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Gypsy moth (Lymantria spp.), viewed 7 July 2020,

3. Biosecurity New Zealand 2019, Investing in Protecting the Border Proposals to Update Cost Recovery for New Zealand’s Biosecurity System, Biosecurity New Zealand Discussion Paper No: 2019/01, Ministry for Primary Industries, viewed 6 July 2020,

4. Craik, W, Palmer, D & Sheldrake, R 2017, Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system, An independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning Intergovernmental Agreement, Canberra, viewed 7 July 2020, (p121)
For more information:
Greenlife Industry Australia
T: (02) 8861 5100
F: (02) 9659 3446

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