Australia's Biosecurity Future — preparing for future biological challenges

The report — Australia’s Biosecurity Future: preparing for future biological challenges — uses strategic foresight to identify the major biosecurity trends and risks Australia may need to respond to in the next 20-30 years.

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Australia’s commitment to biosecurity has allowed us to better protect our unique natural habitats and the health of our people while at the same time maintain an advantage in primary industries. However, our current biosecurity status should not be taken for granted.

Engaged with biosecurity futures; in the Cooradigbee shearing shed. © CATHLES, Helen

The report has identified five biosecurity megatrends that all point toward a shift in the types of biosecurity risks we are likely to face in the future and the way that these risks will need to be managed.

The five megatrends below have been identified as areas of significant change and growing complexity for the future of biosecurity.

An appetite for change

A growing population brings with it a growing demand for food. We are seeing greater agricultural intensification with vertical integration as well as expansion into niche markets such as organic produce and bioproducts, all of which could require entirely new approaches to biosecurity management.

The urban mindset

In a world with more densely populated cities, some with limited access to health and sanitation services and facilities, the increasing risk of an emerging infectious disease outbreak is self evident.

Australia’s biosecurity system will need to engage with the growing numbers of small-scale urban and peri-urban producers and manage the consequences of urban sprawl bringing people into closer proximity with wildlife and agriculture.

On the move

While the increased movement of people, goods and vessels around the world allows for a more interconnected world, this movement also increases the probability of biosecurity threats hitting our shores. A widespread view within Australia’s biosecurity system is that in today’s world it’s not a case of ‘if’ a new threat will get here, it’s a case of ‘when’ it will arrive.

The diversity dilemma

A loss of biodiversity can have economic implications for a number of industries including primary production and tourism, and can also be detrimental to human health and wellbeing. Agricultural biodiversity is also important when thinking about the future, as the reduction of genetic diversity in crops and livestock has the potential to lead to global food security issues.

The efficiency era

Declining biosecurity and agricultural resources and investment have the potential to create significant gaps in biosecurity capability. Technological developments in the areas of surveillance and monitoring, data and analytics, communication and engagement, as well as genetics and smaller, smarter devices will play a key role in helping achieve this. However, there are a number of potential barriers that will need to be addressed if technological innovation is to deliver the efficiencies required.

An unmanned autonomous vehicle used for detecting the invasive weed, Miconia.

Megashocks

The interaction of megatrends has the potential to create megashocks – significant, relatively sudden and potentially high impact events.

The twelve megashocks presented in the report are based on what the biosecurity community identified as some of the most important threats we might face in the next two-three decades.

These megashocks are:

  • nationwide incursion of a new race of an exotic wheat stem rust – one more virulent than existing races of UG99
  • nationwide loss of pollination services from feral European honey bees due to a multi-state varroa mite incursion
  • nationwide incursion of a new exotic fruit fly
  • nationwide outbreak of a variant strain of foot and mouth disease
  • bluetongue outbreak across Australia’s major sheep producing regions
  • highly virulent rust spreads across multiple ecosystems
  • government ‘walks away’ from environmental biosecurity
  • successful establishment of black-striped mussel
  • outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia
  • nationwide zoonotic disease epidemic
  • bioterrorist attack
  • a rapid spike in antimicrobial resistance.

CSIRO, Animal Health Australia, the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and Invasive Animals CRC partnered and consulted widely with industry, government and other scientific organisations to deliver the report for Australia.

Read the full Biosecurity Futures Report.

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