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Australian biosecurity destroys “irreplaceable” plant samples from 19th century France

Oops!…They did it again.

Australian biosecurity officials have destroyed historically and scientifically valuable plant samples dating back to 19th-century France.

ABC News reports that a collection of rare flowering plants was sent over by the Museum of Natural History in Paris and then incinerated by officials in Brisbane.

“They were the first type specimens collected of a species,” Professor Michelle Waycott told the ABC. “That would be the equivalent of material collected in the Flinders expedition, going and then destroying those.

According to the ABC, Australian Quarantine destroyed the specimens because it said that the paperwork wasn’t compliant with Australia’s import conditions.

Professor Waycott, who chairs the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, added that this was the second similar incident “in a matter of weeks”.

Earlier this year, a collection of lichen specimens from New Zealand’s Allan Herbarium was destroyed by biosecurity officers. New Zealand herbaria have since learned their lesson and banned sharing any specimens with Australia. Professor Waycott told the ABC that French herbaria might take similar steps.

The Australian Department of Agriculture declined a request for an interview with the ABC but has said that it is conducting a review into the incidents.

The Guardian reports that a spokesman for the department suggested a communication failure was to blame. He said that the French samples were marked with a value of $2 and there was no prior notification of the package’s arrival or significance.

The department added that it held the specimens for 46 days longer than required and destroyed the plants when the matter was not resolved.

“Herbarium specimens are not without biosecurity risk,” the department’s spokesperson said. “They can include soil and other items that present a pest and disease risk to Australia.”

Australia has a history of invasive species (I’m looking at you, Cane Toad) and has extremely strict biosecurity laws. In 2015, Australia threatened to put down Johnny Depp’s dogs, after the film star and his then-wife Amber Heard smuggled them into the country.

Johnny Depp and his dogs

Faces of evil.

Our message to the world was clear: “We don’t care how famous you are. Don’t mess with our biosecurity. We will kill your dogs”.

The department told the ABC it was “unaware” of the second case of specimen destruction involving specimens from New Zealand. It seems odd that The Australian Department of Agriculture doesn’t know that New Zealand has banned the import of plant specimens into Australia.

Maybe they didn’t get that email either?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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