Sneaky sneaker bid is foiled

AN attempt to sneak high-risk seeds into Australia in the heels of running shoes has been foiled by biosecurity officers.

The seeds were discovered when officers were conducting routine parcel checks at a facility that handles international mail and imported air cargo in Brisbane. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Deputy Secretary of Biosecurity and Compliance Chris Locke said the bags of pumpkin and nightshade seeds were concealed in a pair of sneakers that had been mailed from Burundi in east-central Africa.

“Both seed types did not meet import conditions and are known to harbour diseases including melon necrotic spot virus and tobamoviruses, which if spread into the community could cause widespread devastation to many of Australia’s vegetable crops,” Dr Locke said.

“Some people don’t seem to understand the consequences of infected plants and plant material, including seeds, being illegally sent through the mail. MNSV and tobamoviruses put at risk many valuable vegetable crops including melons, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, and capsicum.”

MNSV was detected in watermelons and rockmelons in isolated outbreaks in New South Wales in 2012, in Victoria in 2016 and Queensland in 2018, causing whole crops to be destroyed.

Tobamovirus can infect some weed species including prostrate pigweed and creeping cucumber and is detrimental to the farming sector. The parcel had been mislabelled as containing new shoes, a leather jacket and a denim outfit for a child.

However, the shoes immediately drew the attention of the inspecting biosecurity officer because they were dirty and not new as declared. The officer found a hole in both heels of the shoes. He carefully inspected the cavities to discover the poorly wrapped seeds.

The seeds were identified by a DAFF botanist and the concealment confirmed with a new, oversized X-ray, supplied to DAFF by the Australian Border Force.