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August 7, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Fire Don’t Walk With Me

MPs and industry representatives from Australia and New Zealand met at the Agricultural Ministers Forum on July 26 to discuss critical agricultural concerns, including the eradication of the red imported fire ant (RIFA) from Australia and New Zealand

The Australian Government committed $411 million over ten years to eradicate RIFA. The decision expanded the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in response to concerns raised by environmentalists and farmers over their potential effects on Australia’s lifestyle, economy, and environment.

Red imported fire ants (RIFA), native to South America, are one of the world’s most invasive ant species. Seven RIFA incursions have been recorded in Australia since 2001, with all but one successfully eradicated.

Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries labelled RIFA a “social menace,” citing the US experience where “people don’t go barefoot or sit or lie on the ground, or even stand for too long in one spot because they will be stung.”

RIFA attack en masse, inflicting an itching and burning sting that can last hours. Fatal allergic reactions have been reported, and secondary infections from stings can be serious.

Three RIFA colonies have been detected and destroyed in NZ since 2001. Unlike Australia, New Zealand currently has no targeted RIFA eradication policy, although preventative measures being undertaken under broader biosecurity practices. In 2006, the Government pledged $10 million to fight RIFA, as part of a $138 million annual biosecurity budget.

A Landcare Research risk assessment identified that RIFA have a high likelihood of being introduced to New Zealand through the transportation of shipping containers and untreated natural materials.

In March 2001 an Auckland Airport gardener found a RIFA nest, which was subsequently destroyed. No further signs of incursion were discovered. Three years later, in February 2004, 200 RIFA were found in bait traps at the Port of Napier.

In 2006, a nest which is thought to have been two to three years old was discovered in Whirinaki. The nest was destroyed, and surveillance and treatment of the area was carried out until 2009.

A report by The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, issued in 2001, identified the potential effects of RIFA introduction, citing the annual cost of living with RIFA at an estimated to be $318 million. 70% of that attributed to  household impacts, such as repairs and treatment costs.

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