Online shopping company eBay has been working with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) to weed out unidentified seeds and live plants coming into the country in the mail. 

Key points:

  • Australia’s DAWE has teamed up with eBay to stop illegal seeds and plants entering the country
  • 18,000 attempts have already been stopped this year
  • Unidentified seeds pose huge risks to the agriculture sector

They have already stopped 18,000 attempts this year alone, and with the Christmas season on the horizon, biosecurity officers in international mailrooms have ramped up surveillance.

Vikki Fischer, the assistant secretary of pathway policy — travellers, mail, and imported food with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, said most shoppers did not even realise they were doing something illegal.

“A lot of people jump online to order something for the garden, or to order presents, and do it without thinking about where the seeds might be coming from,” Ms Fischer said.

A golden lab sits in front of opened mail

All unidentified seeds detected by the sniffer dogs will be destroyed. (Supplied: DAWE)

Seeds and live plants are intercepted at international mail centres around Australia with the use of sniffer dogs and X-ray machines.

From November 8, the policy changed so that any unidentified seeds entering Australia would be put directly into secure waste and destroyed.

The policy also applies to meat products entering the country.

Ms Fischer said online shopping companies like eBay had even shut down sellers trying to import seeds illegally into Australia.

Bad seeds caught red right-handed

Biosecurity staff numbers will increase over the Christmas period as more international mail arrives.

“We have the detector dogs and X-ray machines, but most of the time it’s our biosecurity staff who find them,” Ms Fischer said.

“The parcels are often labelled earrings or kids’ toys, and our staff are picking up an amazing amount of seeds in packets that are labelled otherwise.”

A sniffer dog with a package.

Zinta the sniffer dog finds another package with unidentified seeds inside.(Supplied: DAWE)

Ms Fischer said consumers might not even be expecting seeds to arrive in the mail.

“An example might be sunflower seeds or a gift that comes along with your order,” Ms Fischer said.

Sowing a biosecurity disaster  

Ms Fischer said there were huge risks to the agriculture sector if invasive species entered Australia.

“We’ve already got a number of invasive species that have come in,” she said.

“It could be something with disease associated with it, things like cucumber green mottle mosaic virus, which you definitely don’t want in your backyard or in the horticulture sector.”

A collection of contraband.

eBay has blocked more than 18,000 attempts by overseas traders looking to sell unidentified seeds and live plants to Australia this year.(Supplied)

Unidentified seeds also have the potential to carry unwanted pests such as the khapra beetle.

The Department of Agriculture states if the khapra beetle were to establish here many trading partners would reject stored produce from Australia, leading to devastating impacts on grain exports and the economy.

“The khapra beetle survives quite well without too much food and is super happy to be living among seeds,” Ms Fischer said.

Ms Fischer encouraged anyone who received unidentified seeds in the mail to report them or check the rules on importing seeds.

“It’s not that you can’t import seeds, there’s just particular import conditions,” she said.

Policies and the reporting of unidentified seeds, pests, or disease concerns are available on the federal government website or by calling 1800 798 636.

Have you purchased seeds online from overseas? That’s probably illegal
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