Five minutes with… Greg Pickles, Director of Border Biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture and Food

According to recent statistics from WA border security, there has been an unprecedented number of people taking banned foodstuffs into the state, with over 30 tonnes of prohibited material seized at road checkpoints last financial year (a nine percent increase), and almost a further three tonnes seized at Perth domestic airport. While most of us are aware of the importance of quarantine when travelling overseas, many underestimate the cost of taking food or plant materials interstate.
Why is it important we don’t take certain foods across state borders?
There are many exotic pests and diseases that have become established in other states and territories but not in WA. For example, WA is one of very few places in the world that does not have European Foulbrood Disease in bees, which requires treating with large doses of antibiotics. Their absence here means less chemicals and treatments need to be applied to produce, benefiting both the grower and consumer. It also means fewer costs so our clean and green produce is more accessible to buyers.

What sort of things shouldn’t travellers take and why?
There are quarantine restrictions on fresh fruit, vegetables, plants, cut flowers, raw walnuts, honey, soil, unprocessed animal skins and some animals, such as cane toads and African grey parrots. All of these are potential carriers of pests or diseases. Interstate travellers, particularly 4WD drivers, should also be vigilant about keeping their vehicles free of excess soil and plant material to avoid the spread of weed seeds and soil-borne diseases.

Why walnuts and not other kinds of nuts?

Walnuts in their shell are restricted due to being a potential host to codling moth. The codling moth larvae live under the walnut shell but not in other nut shells.

What are some of the strangest things people try to bring in?
Most things we find are not strange, but rather things people have some attachment to. People like to travel with their “good luck” plants and pets but many of these are exotic and cannot enter. Once we had a young man on a bus who was carrying a bonsai plant and when he was informed that the plant needed certification stating it had been sprayed in order to enter, he smashed it onto the ground making a pretty good mess and destroying his beloved plant and pot.
At road checkpoints people sometimes try to hide things, but our knowledge and thorough inspections mean we find these hiding spots. This is also the case at the airport, where detector dogs have found people hiding things in their underwear. This can be embarrassing for everyone.

Are we allowed to pat your dogs?

Most people want to pat the dogs but unfortunately this isn’t allowed while the dog is working. The dogs work on a reward basis, which includes affection and food rewards, so patting them can be detrimental to their enthusiasm to work.