Tuesday 17th Jul, 2018

INDUSTRY OPINION: Italian imports added to stink bug watchlist

Photo: Gary Bernon / USDA
Photo: Gary Bernon / USDA

FOR those of us involved in the handling and clearance of sea cargo shipments from the United States, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) is not new news.

If you live and/or work in the south-eastern states of Australia you would be well aware that the BMSB season is approaching when the weather starts to change to milder conditions instead of the cold weather throughout the nights and days.

What is news, however, is that the Department of Agriculture & Water Resources has extended its scrutiny to target goods shipped from Italy.

So this season breakbulk and vehicles, boats, machinery and machinery parts from all ports in both the US and Italy will be checked, from 1 September 2017 to 30 April 2018 inclusive.

The Department also says heightened inspections will apply to target goods from other European countries where BMSB is known to be established “in order to monitor emerging risk of importation of BMSB on those pathways”.

Without going into the detail of processing of shipments and emergency requirements enforced by the Department, I thought it would be useful and at least a bit interesting to see why the BMSB requires an ‘emergency’ response from our authorities.

Looking deeper into the background of this creature unveils some interesting facts.

BMSB (scientific name ‘Halyomorpha halys’), or simply the stink bug, is an insect that is native to Asia (particularly China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan). The BMSB grows to approximately 1.7 centimetres long and as wide, looks like the usual stink bug and comes in a few different colours: grey, copper, blue and off-white.

In 1998, it was accidentally introduced into the United States, from China or Japan, as a stowaway in packing crates or on shipments of machinery. It was deemed an agricultural pest and has established itself as a season-long threat in US orchards. You may be asking yourself why Italy is now included in the emergency measures – the answer is that this pest is now widespread in Europe and has recently been found in South America also.

The BMSB loves fruit and vegies and if not controlled can wipe out entire crops, as it did to soybean in Japan. The female stink bug can lay four hundred eggs in a lifetime, which may last from several months to a year. The BMSB is also highly mobile and capable of moving from host to host without disruption to their reproductive processes.

Unlike China, the US – which has an ideal climate for BMSB reproduction, across many states – does not have a natural ‘control’ for the bug. Their Department of Agriculture has detected increasing resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, used to combat infestations, and is working on introducing a predator. But it is concerned that any predator will also become an invasive species (like our friend the Cane Toad!).

So, for the time being, you better get prepared and ready because it’s soon to be BMSB season!

Already shipping lines are reminding customers of their fumigation and reporting obligations, and you can get further details from the Department’s website: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/import/industry-advice/2017/76-2017

* Tony Nikro is the Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) representative to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

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