A proposed mandatory labelling scheme for invasive species
In Australia, the economic impact of weeds is estimated as 4 billion AUD per year, taking into account production losses and control costs (excluding environmental costs and the impact on biodiversity which are very difficult to estimate). The garden industry is a major pathway for invasive alien plants as 70% of the Australian agricultural and environmental weeds were ornamental escapees.
In 2004, the Australian authorities recommended that a mandatory labelling of invasive alien plants should be considered. This labelling consists of indicating the country of origin of the plant, the areas where it is indigenous, and whether it has proven invasive elsewhere.
Plant purchase transactions of plants are important potential points of intervention since they can be used to:
- encourage consumers in purchasing non invasive plants
- stimulate action to manage past invasions or to report and control new outbreaks, provide information to enable consumers to prevent any further spread of the invasive species they have purchased.
Such a labelling system would also be favourable to the nursery industry because:
- it would allow a graduated transition when replacing invasive species by non-invasive species thus permitting the industry to maintain profits
- it would incur lower costs than a banning/policing approach
- it would help to minimize potential future civil liability
- it would increase consumer reliance on industry expertise.
For governments, an industry led-strategy would probably incur lower costs than a regulatory one.
A mandatory programme of labelling is expected to be more effective than a voluntary one because:
- wide industry participation would be needed
- it would be unfair for all the costs of such a programme to be borne by voluntary participants only.
Overall, it is expected that a mandatory labelling scheme would be a cost-effective complement to regulations on import and sale of invasive species, provided that:
- prior to or during the implementation of a mandatory labelling scheme, an information programme is developed to encourage consumers to modify their behaviour
- regulatory and administrative systems are able to underpin the strategy
- industry and governments commit sufficient resources and effort to overcome the difficulties met while implementing such a strategy.
Martin P, Verbeek M, Thomson S, Martin J (2005) The costs and benefits of a proposed mandatory invasive species labelling scheme, a discussion paper prepared for WWF-Australia by the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, University of New England. WWF-Australia, Sydney. 30 pp. http://wwf.org.au/publications/InvasivesMandatoryLabelling/