Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned about the long-term risks that represent “biological spills” for our ecosystem along global trade routes.
Among the many examples of the negative consequences of biological spills, stands out the case of the eukaryotic microorganism Phytophthora infestans, which means “plant destroyer”. This fungus-like microorganism arrived to Belgium from the Americas to trigger a potato blight that led to “famine, death and mass migration”.
“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 percent,” he explains.
Although the threats have different origins, shipping is the main channel of these new inhabitants. Both cargo and shipping containers can spread exotic species, causing severe damage to the environment and agriculture.
A study from New Zealand exposed that one of each ten maritime containers that arrived at this country in a five years period were contaminated on the outside. Inspections indicate that this same trend repeats with containers from China, USA, and Australia.
The same research revealed that economic losses caused by these biological invasions correspond to 5% of annual world economic activity.
What can shipping industry do?
In an alliance with maritime industry, New Zealand encourages to takes preventive measures with a system of container’s biosecurity and cleaning that also offers economic incentives to the ones who comply with the rules.
Additionally, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures recommends to communicate the risks associated with shipping containers and to comply the Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code). The Commission also will revisit the possibility to develop an international standard in the future.