Asian Hornet head Photo 216891740 © Thomas Lenne
© Thomas Lenne

Grain Producers Australia (GPA) is calling for a container levy to cover the cost of cleaning and fumigating containers as the need to control the spread of invasive species on boxes is brought into sharp focus.

It is GPA’s second attempt to introduce such a levy after the first was shot down by Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, for reasons that GPA chief executive Colin Bettles described as “[not] properly explained to me at least”.

“Whether it was some practicalities around systems, we would like to think that we could find ways to overcome that to implement it, given the benefits that it could deliver, not only for growers in our industry, but the broader public as well,” said Mr Bettles in a series of hearings held last week.

Farmers in Australia are concerned about the threat of the Khapra Beetle, which, if introduced, could cause “an estimated A$15.5bn (US$10.6bn) worth of damage over 20 years and a loss of access to important grain-export markets for Australian farmers,” according to GPA southern region director Andrew Wiedemann.

In all, the UN said, plant pests and diseases – inclusive of native and invasive species – are responsible for the loss of up to 40% of global food crops, causing trade losses and leading to an annual bill of US$22bn.

But there is division over which parties should be held responsible for invasive species – the owners and operators of the ships they arrive on, the owners of the containers, or cargo owners.

“Ultimately the packer is responsible for what goes into the container, but other operators are responsible for what a container looks like when it is released to the shipper, packer,” said Peregrine Storrs-Fox, risk management director, TT Club.

“Ultimately the whole supply chain has responsibility, so the buyer needs to think about what is happening at the time they are buying, that might impact the way cargo is loaded, and ask the seller and packer to take account of that.

“I think at this stage we’re open to any ideas, because it is an issue impacting across the supply chain and in destination countries,” Mr Storrs-Fox continued. “There are dramatic stories of the impacts on local ecosystems. Every country is impacted, and that may have significant economic repercussions.”

The UN has asked representatives from the supply chain industry to form the Container Cleanliness Industry Advisory Group (CCIAG), which now counts The International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA) among its members.

The CCIAG marks a new push across the maritime industry to take seriously the movement of invasive species arriving in shipping containers.

Shipping is held responsible for introducing Asian Giant Hornets, colloquially termed “Murder Hornets,” as well as the Asian Longhorn Beetle to US shores, with devastating and costly consequences to local crops.

Meanwhile, the Spotted Lanternfly, believed to have been introduced from China, is so destructive that residents of various east-Coast US states have been instructed to kill them on sight.

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