E-commerce: a risk to consider
Invasive plants seriously impact our environmental, agricultural and forestry assets, and the ornamental plant trade is a major introduction pathway. Ornamental plant movement is facilitated by the online trade, through e-commerce, which creates opportunities for the public to purchase and spread plants considered as invasive. As it stands, laws prohibiting the trade of invasive plants have not been effective at stopping the advertisement of such plants through e-commerce. A lack of surveillance and regulation of e-commerce has resulted in invasive species being widely traded on these platforms.
A recent study investigated the illegal trade of invasive plant species in Australia, by collecting advertisements on a popular e-commerce website.
Out of 10,000 advertisements, 1,415 concerned invasive plants, of which 411 breached local jurisdictional laws.
Across a 12-month period authors found that about 1% of plant trade on a popular Australian e-commerce platform was prohibited.
The genus’ cacti Opuntia and invasive aquatic plants were traded the most. A variety of uses for plants prohibited to trade were purported by sellers, and the use in aquatic environment was the most popular. The study highlights that trade prohibitions had no influence on the quantity and price of illegal invasive plants traded, despite Australia’s strict internal biosecurity regulations.
The extent of illegal invasive plants traded leads to the conclusion that an increased monitoring and regulation of online plant trade is necessary. Detection methods of illegal trade can be enhanced using web scraping techniques to improve law enforcement. Data collected from the monitoring can also help future risk assessments of weeds available online.
Efforts should be placed on increasing people’s awareness and education on prohibited invasive plants while suggesting safe alternatives to the desire of people for new plant species.
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