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Brussels, 28 September 2010

Questions and answers on the review of the EU plant health regime

What is the EU plant health regime?

The EU plant health regime is a quarantine legislative system, which aims to protect the EU territory against the introduction and spread of certain organisms, which are harmful to plants. It lays down specific requirements for imports of plant materials into the EU and for internal movement of such materials within the EU. The regime is fully harmonized. Free movement is allowed for plant materials produced within the EU or, after inspection, for plants imported into the EU.

EU areas that are free from specific harmful organisms occurring elsewhere in the EU can be recognized as protected zones. Plant materials moved into such protected zones have to comply with additional safeguard provisions.

The regime builds on the international framework provided by the International Plant Protection Convention and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. Plant health (phytosanitary) regimes are in place in all countries world-wide.

Which pests and diseases are regulated by EU law?

The regime regulates harmful organisms that are injurious to plants or plant products. This includes insects, nematodes and micro-organisms (fungi, bacteria, viruses, viroids). Some injurious plants (for instance parasitic plants) are also regulated. The regime, however, does not cover pathogens of humans or animals.

The regime targets pests and diseases that are not present in the EU or can be found only in parts of the EU. The reason is that pests and diseases that are indigenous to Europe can in general be managed by growers, while pests and diseases from elsewhere in the world can be more damaging and very difficult to manage. European crops and forest trees generally lack natural resistance to pests from elsewhere in the world (a consequence of their evolution on other plant and tree species). Foreign pests have to be kept out.

The regime in principle covers all pests and diseases, but in practice targets only the most dangerous ones. Currently about 250 harmful organisms are listed in the annexes of the core Directive 2000/29/EC.

Some examples:

  • Anoplophora chinensis (Citrus longhorned beetle): an Asiatic insect of which the larvae are boring holes and feed into the trunk and roots of common deciduous trees (maple, birch, poplar, willow, citrus, etc.). Adults cause defoliation. Massive attacks on trees can be fatal;

  • Bemisia tabaci (Whitefly): an insect which causes damage mostly in protected crops. Whiteflies are important vectors of a broad range of damaging plant viruses, which are mostly absent from the EU;

  • Bursaphelenchus xylophilus (Pine wood nematode): a microscopic worm that is native to North-America where the local pine trees are resistant to the disease. It has spread to Asia where it has caused large-scale forest death. Present in Portugal since 1999 where it is under strict control;

  • Clavibacter michiganensis ssp. sepedonicus (potato ring rot) and Ralstonia solanacearum (potato brown rot): bacterial diseases, which cause yield losses in potato and for which no chemical control is possible;

  • Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Western corn rootworm): an important American pest of maize, which reached the EU and is slowly spreading. It is predicted to cause billions of euros of damage and will require substantial use of insecticides;

  • Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Red palm weevil): an insect that is native to Asia and introduced into the Mediterranean, where it is killing palm trees, especially the older ones;

  • Xanthomonas axonopodis (Citrus canker): a damaging bacterium from Southeast Asia, which has spread in many citrus-producing countries worldwide and is absent from the EU.

Third countries to a certain extent regulate other pests and diseases than the EU. Pests on the EU lists may be indigenous and relatively harmless to their crops and forests, while indigenous European pests may be dangerous for them. Consequently, no worldwide accepted list of harmful organisms of plants exists.

What are the essential elements of the EU plant health law?

The basic legislation of the EU plant health regime is Council Directive 2000/29/EC on protective measures against the introduction and spread of harmful organisms. Four additional Council Directives concern specific organisms that target potatoes. The main pillars of the regime are:

  • Provisions concerning import of plant materials: bans for certain products and specific requirements for others; certification; inspection upon entry into the EU; notification of findings and imposing of measures

  • Preventive measures concerning intra-EU trade of seeds and plants for planting: issuance of plant passports by growers under official supervision, allowing the products to move freely inside the EU

  • Protected zones: plants coming from outside into these zones must fulfil additional phytosanitary requirements (including a special "ZP" plant passport for intra-Community movement)

  • Surveillance: obligations to carry out national surveys for specific pests and diseases and notify findings

  • Eradication, containment, control: obligations to eradicate outbreaks and, if eradication is impossible, to contain them

Why has the Commission commissioned an evaluation of the EU's plant health legal framework?

A sharp increase in plant health problems in the EU has been witnessed over the last decade. The increased influx of new pests and diseases is related to the ongoing globalisation of trade and to the incursion of pests from parts of the world from which no plant material entered Europe in the past. The problems are exacerbated by climate change, which creates opportunities for new pests and allows them to establish where this was previously impossible. In view of these increasing new concerns and challenges, the Commission recognised the limitations of the current plant health regime and, in 2009, launched a comprehensive evaluation of the regime. The evaluation study was recently completed.

What will change with the new EU plant health law and when?

The new plant health law will step up prevention, surveillance and rapid action upon outbreaks. It will reinforce the plant passport system for intra-EU movements of plant materials and improve the protected zone system. The possibility to introduce financial incentives will be examined.

The adoption by the Commission for the new EU plant health law is scheduled for 2012.

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