[ASC-media] Media release: plants cost consumers $800m

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Oct 9 23:02:57 CEST 2006

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management

Media Release

October 10, 2006


Australian consumers are losing $800 million a year due to invasive plants.

A new study has found the nation loses one dollar in every seven of its farm income to weeds - and around a fifth of the burden is borne by consumers.

Economist Associate Professor Jack Sinden of the Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management says that a study of Australia's twelve main agricultural activities shows an alarming loss of income due to pest plants.

 "Around $4 billion is lost, either in direct loss of production, or in costs associated with controlling unwanted plant species," says Professor Sinden. "These costs are borne by all Australians, consumers as well as producers."

The worst-hit agricultural industries are beef, wheat, and wool. The beef and veal industry alone loses up to $880 million per year to pasture weeds.

The annual losses for the main industry groups studied were:

*	Crops			$m 1518
*	Livestock		$m  2409

"Each industry suffers the effects of unwanted plants in a different way," he says. "In the cropping industry, the main cost is in the direct control of pest species. But in the livestock industries, where control of weeds is very difficult in grazing lands, the yield losses are very high."

Prof. Sinden says an important element in the new study was an analysis of which sections of the community bore the greater part of the $4 billion annual loss.

"Eighty per cent of the loss is directly borne by the producers," he says. "Twenty per cent is borne by consumers. In other words, weeds are forcing up the price of Australian food produce by 20%, and we consumers are paying for it."

Equally, Prof. Sinden says, expenditure on combatting invasive plants is money well spent, since weed management in Australia gives a very good return on investment. 

For example, a recent study on the economics of biological control, which is when weeds are controlled by insects or fungi or other natural means, showed that for every dollar spent in Australia in this way since 1903, $23 was returned.

"Weed management returns a very high dollar in the long term for the amount spent," he says. 

"However, there is a big gap between what weed managers now do, and what we could do if more resources were available. 

Weeds CRC director Dr Rachel McFadyen says this gap is likely to remain as long as the vast majority of Australians fail to appreciate the real impact of invasive plants and their true cost. 

Dr McFadyen points to new data released during Landcare Week 2006 which shows that 72% of 16 to 24-year-olds in cities have 'no or little understanding' of farming. This city-country awareness gap makes it politically difficult to get attention for rural issues like weeds, she says, even when the cost runs to billions of dollars a year and city mums and dads are paying for it through higher food prices.

"It's even harder when we try to convince people that weeds are damaging the natural environment', she says. 

"That's happening across very large areas and in many different ways, but without a dollar figure to place on that impact most people, including politicians, find the idea hard to grasp."

A new report prepared by the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation and published by the CRC recently shows for the first time how at least half of the state's threatened native plants are now at risk from weeds.

"This is not a one-off battle which we will win or lose. It is probably not technologically or economically possible to completely defeat invading plants", says Dr McFadyen. "But as a nation we are doing only a very small fraction of what we know urgently needs to be done."

Professor Sinden says that a periodic survey is necessary to ensure that Australia's agriculture does not fall behind in controlling invasive plants, as the costs of doing so are very high. He hopes to repeat the recent study within five years. 

The economic impact of weeds in Australia is available from the Weeds CRC at: www.weeds.crc.org.au/documents/tech_series_8.pdf

Impact of weeds on threatened biodiversity in New South Wales is at:

More information from:

Associate Professor Jack Sinden, Weeds CRC and University of New
England, 02 6773 2293 (up to 3.00 pm Mon-Fri), or 02 6772 4995 (a.h.)
Dr Rachel McFadyen 0409 263 817 (pm until 5.00 Tues 10, and rest of week)
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6693, 0429 830 366


Images of weeds are available from rita.reitano at adelaide.edu.au

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