Australian Biosecurity Officers Just Destroyed An 'Irreplaceable' Plant Collection

A box of rare daisies dating back to the mid 19th century has been destroyed by Australian biosecurity officials after a paperwork mix-up. Upsettingly, it's the second such incident to happen in Australia in recent months.

The destroyed sample would have looked similar to this Natural History Museum collection (Image: Natural History Museum)

As reported by ABC News, the pressed plant samples were shipped from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris to Queensland's herbarium in Brisbane. It's common practice for museums and herbariums to swap material to help identify and study rare plant species -- in this case, daisies that date back to the 1850s. (The species in question was not disclosed.) But in a strange and impulsive move, the Australian biosecurity officials handling the case took it upon themselves to incinerate the entire collection, saying the shipping documents were filled out incorrectly. Australian quarantine officials are now investigating the incident, which happened back in March.

"They were the first type specimens collected of a species," Michelle Waycott, chair of the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, told ABC News. "So literally irreplaceable collections and of high historic and scientific value... it may have a major impact on our ability to do our research."

Upsettingly, it's the second similar incident to happen in Australia in a matter of weeks. Recently, a collection of lichen specimens from New Zealand's Allan Herbarium en route to the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra was also destroyed by biosecurity officers. In response, New Zealand's herbaria have instituted a ban on sending any more plant specimens to Australia, Waycott told ABC News.

In the case of the rare daisies, Australian biosecurity officials said the paperwork failed to meet Australian import requirements, and was missing information such as a listing of the specimens, botanical nomenclature, and whether the specimens were preserved or not. Officials made a request to the French museum for more information, but for some inexplicable reason, the collection was incinerated before the museum had a chance to respond.

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (FDAWR), which controls Australian biosecurity, said the collection was held for 46 days longer than required, but admitted the plants shouldn't have been destroyed. "[The] destruction of the specimens should not have proceeded while communication between the department and the intended recipient was ongoing," noted the department in a statement.

Pressed flowers may not seem like an environmental risk, but Australia, with its history of invasive species, is hypersensitive when it comes to importing biological materials. The FDAWR says herbarium specimens "are not without biosecurity risk," citing such as concerns as the introduction of contaminated soil containing pests and diseases.

Risk or no, it's definitely a frustrating incident. Makes you wonder what the biosecurity officials were thinking -- and why they simply didn't do the right thing: Return to sender.

[ABC News, BBC]

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Comments

    So it had a from address, and a to address...the person reading the from address would have seen that it was coming from a Museum, and going to a herbarium... in other words, a completely legit reason to be sending ANY kind of plant based material. Yet, the officer in charge was still a prick and incinerated because it could have been a "threat"?

    Sounds to me like he just wanted to watch the world burn...

      2016 a massive ecstasy bust was uncovered when reading the shipping address form they decided to google the company address and phone number instead... and found it didn't match the form. Fake employees using the real company name. So they cant JUST go off the address or company name.

      Legit reason doesnt mean anything, if you dont have the right licence, permit and paperwork.
      And they gave them more than 2 months to sort this out.

        You're right, there is absolutely no difference between uncovering an illicit drug shipment and incinerating irreplaceable biological samples.

          Whoa big fella. There's a huge difference. One is a hard to come by (in Australia and of pure quality) much desired drug (yes please, how much have you got ) and the other is some old dried plants.(doesn't even give you a high so what use is it). Big big difference and never joke about it again thank you very much.

        This....this comparison doesn't make sense. There were no drugs involved, in fact, they KNEW what was in the package. However, they still destroyed it rather than wait to hear back, or you know, return to sender.

    The thought that another country trusted us enough to send priceless scientific specimens to us for research and some fucktard at biosecurity decided to just torch the things genuinely makes me feel sick. This behaviour is absolutely unacceptable, and fobbing it off as "well we made a mistake and it won't happen again" isn't anywhere near good enough.

      I sort of agree that a case like this needed further consideration, but biosecurity is a big issue for us and we've been fairly successful at enforcing it over the years. When they fail, we end up with shit like fire ants.

      Doesn't really change things much with this case (which is somewhat different in its intent) but biosecurity is tight to protect our native flora/fauna and agricultural industry.

        I definitely agree that biosecurity is important. As you say though, it's no excuse for this particular action.

    The story isn't Australian Biosecurity destroyed the collection... the story is, two biological museums who are suppose to routinely import/export collections cant fill out import/export records correctly, or respond quickly to an query.

    If you ordered something on the internet, its two days late your on tracking websites, calling the supplier and calling up the courier/post office. You send something valueable as this and more than 2 months later (it was held 46 days longer than regulations) you don't even check where it is or chase up the shipping details. I think the Herbariums didn't do their due diligence or react to a sense of urgency that was required.

    They didn't stuff up the paperwork once, they stuffed it up three times. They held it longer than regulations and gave amble opportunities to respond. Biosecurity did their job, the Herbariums didnt.

      And so you believe that lame arse story from Biosecurity do you, it is a Gov department you know?
      It sounds all too convenient to blame the Herbariums

      Except even the Biosecurity guys missed a step...

      RETURN. TO. SENDER.

      They didn't have to destroy the plants, they could have gone, whelp, no one is responding, send it back home.

      They knew what was in the package, so they didn't have any reason to believe it was illegal, so there was NO reason to destroy it.

    I used to have a lot of interaction with AQIS in my previous job (we imported a lot a foreign plant, animal and microbial/fungal samples). My impression was some behaved like fascists primarily because - much like customs and airport security - they have virtually absolute authority over people. If they said it's going to be a certain way, then that's how it's gonna be. No discussion or argument.

    Everyone sounds surprised, but I thought we hired people to be border goons specifically because they are charmless dimwits, not because they have common sense. I've always thought a useful indicator of someone's character is how destructive they are, how taken they are with breaking or destroying things.

    It does appear to be a bureaucratic stuff-up all round, however, if the airport security personnel are anything to go by, one has to consider the type of people who apply for the jobs and what the job does to them. It is also highly unlikely that the training personnel receive encourages them to think. Someone should have had the initiative to, say, make a phone call, send an email. However, the museum staff should have had the initiative to instigate check measures.

      Or, return to sender....not sure if I've mentioned that enough.

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