Red imported fire ants – the benefits of avoiding a national disaster

by Minh Ngoc Le and Rod Campbell

The Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) has the potential to become one of Australia’s most noxious invasive species and Australia’s national eradication program is not sufficiently resourced.

Government-commissioned economic analysis suggests the economic case for red imported fire ant eradication is marginal. The main flaw in this modelling is that it only covers a 15-year time period. By simply extending the analysis of the latest government-commissioned modelling, the economic case for RIFA eradication goes from marginal to compelling. For every dollar spent eradicating the ants, the public benefit is between $3 and $9.

This analysis shows that RIFA will cost Australia more than $22 billion by the 2040s. This means that it is less costly to spend $200 million or even $300 million per year every year for the next ten years (which would be a total of between $2 billion and $3 billion) to eradicate RIFA now.

We suggest that one of the reasons that the eradication plan has gone underfunded is that the latest cost-benefit analysis – commissioned by Biosecurity Queensland of Department of
Agriculture and Fisheries, titled Assessing the Impacts of the Red Imported Fire Ant and published in 2021 – downplays the economic case for urgent action.

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