Canberra resident Brett Burdett has demonstrated the power of community biosecurity action.

Mr Burdett and his wife Donna noticed unfamiliar insect larvae in a newly purchased fridge in August and reported them to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The larvae were identified as those of the khapra beetle, Trogoderma granarium, Australia’s number two national priority plant pest. Australia is currently free from khapra beetle, a pest that poses a major threat to Australia’s grain industry.

Mr Burdett’s report allowed the department to initiate immediate tracking, tracing, inspection, containment and treatment of the pest. This led to finding khapra beetle in additional locations associated with the same import of fridges.

Management of this interception was a large-scale effort that spanned the ACT and NSW, and involved the cooperation of the community, importers, Australian businesses and state and territory governments.

Mr Burdett’s swift action earnt him the Community Award at the 2020 Australian Biosecurity Awards announced in November.

“I was pleasantly surprised to have received the award. My initial response was that it should have gone to my wife as she encouraged me to email the biosecurity department and it was at her suggestion that we collected samples for analysis,” Mr Burdett said.

The live beetle larvae were found in the polystyrene packing at the base of the packaged fridge. “We only discovered them after removing the plastic packaging that covered the whole fridge,” Mr Burdett said.

“I could not identify the larvae as they were unlike any I had seen before, though I suspected they must have come from overseas. Since the fridge was manufactured in Thailand, my wife and I suspected they came from there.

“I took a photograph and enlarged it to see if I could identify them. I searched images of larvae on the internet to see if I could find a match and when I came up blank, my wife and I decided to collect them for analysis. I emailed the biosecurity department and they arrived soon after to collect the samples for identification.”

DNA analysis of the larvae confirmed they were khapra beetles. Following identification, departmental officials arrived, collected and bagged the packaging and sprayed all areas where beetles might have escaped.

“When I heard khapra were one of the top pests needing to be kept out of Australia I was not surprised at the department’s response,” Mr Burdett said.

“The most satisfying thing to hear was how calamitous the arrival of khapra could have been to the grains industry if it had become established in Australia. My wife and I were quite chuffed to have assisted in stopping a possible outbreak.

“I don’t have a biosecurity background, but I do have an avid interest in bugs in general. I consider myself quite well informed on how pests have arrived.”

Mr Burdett’s report also added to the department’s risk profile of khapra beetle, providing valuable information on how the department can better manage the risk of khapra beetle entering Australia.

“Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility, and we all need to do our part to protect our environment, industries, plants and animals from pests and diseases,” said Andrew Tongue, Head of Biosecurity and Compliance at the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

“Mr and Mrs Burdett’s actions demonstrate the important role the community plays in safeguarding Australia from biosecurity risks. Thanks to their report, the department was able to effectively manage this interception and prevent a serious plant pest from calling Australia home.

“We need all Australians to follow this example. Be biosecurity aware, keep an eye out and ensure you report any potential biosecurity risks.”  

Canberra resident Brett Burdett.