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Brussels, 28 September 2010

EU's plant health to be strengthened and better protected through new legislation

Over the past few years, globalisation and climate change have increased the challenges the EU faces in preventing the entry and spread of non-native plant pests in its territory. Red Palm Weevil is devastating palm trees in Mediterranean Member States, outbreaks of Pine Wood Nematode in Portugal are threatening millions of hectares of coniferous forest in southern Europe and the long-horned beetle, which arrived from Asia, is endangering broad-leaved trees, such as maple, citrus and apple trees and birches, beeches and willows. Severe problems caused by non-native harmful pests have always existed.

Based on a recent evaluation study and the conclusions of a key conference taking place today in Brussels, the European Commission announced it will modernise its legislation in order to further strengthen and better protect the health of the EU's plants. The EU's legislation on Plant Health dates back to the late '70s and cannot fully cope effectively with today's challenges. The Commission recently completed an evaluation of the EU's plant health regime, which confirmed the existence of deficiencies, and will bring the necessary changes to the legislation in 2012.

Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said: "Plant health cannot be taken for granted. Safeguarding it supports, among other things, our growers' competitiveness. But first and foremost, plant health is a public good. It is fundamental to sustainable production and food security. We have to better protect our trees, our landscape and forests against irreversible damage from pests – foreign or native". To conclude : "In order to do this a new plant health law needs to be developed and that's exactly what the Commission plans to do in the next two years."

Better prevention needed

An evaluation of the EU's plant health regime was carried out by the Food Evaluation Chain Consortium in 2009-2010, and the ensuing report, which confirmed the necessity to review the current legislation, was published in late July1. The report underlines that a revised EU Plant Health Law should include better prevention provisions concerning plant imports and plant products, improved surveillance for harmful organisms in the Member States and faster emergency action.

It also identifies that the plant passport system for intra-EU movements of plants and plant products needs to be better harmonised and notes that modernisation of the regime will require prioritisation and risk targeting. The report further recommends a higher level of EU financial solidarity as concerns Member State action and losses of growers.

Conference and field visit

The findings of the evaluation report are being discussed today during the Conference "Towards a new EU Plant Health Law," which is jointly organised by the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency of the EU. The Commission will take into consideration the conference's conclusions when drafting the Union's new plant health legislation.

After opening the conference, Commissioner Dalli and the Belgian Minister, Sabine Laruelle, visited a plant nursery in Holsbeek, north of Leuven. The field visit included a demonstration by the Belgian competent authorities of plant health inspections for the presence of regulated harmful organisms. During the visit the broad scope of the EU plant health regime was also highlighted – it ranges from imports of plants and flowers from third countries, to intra-EU trade in plant materials and control of domestic production.


Various problems caused by non-native harmful pests have always existed. They have been occurring from time to time throughout the centuries in Europe. For example, Ireland's Great Famine of the 19th century was caused by the invasion of the late blight fungus from Central America. The pest totally destroyed the country's potato crop, which was the population's basic source of food. The mentioned recent examples have also been particularly alarming (Red Palm Weevil, Pine Wood Nematode, long-horned beetle).

Pests and diseases continue to threaten main food crops worldwide today. Europe is particularly vulnerable to pests from other continents. European crops and forests generally have little or no natural resistance against these new pests. The absence of natural resistance often leads to sharp and irreversible increases in pesticide use. Globalisation and climate change only serve to exacerbate these problems. Climate change, for example, allows new pests to flourish in areas where it was previously impossible.

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