The new Plant Health Regulation, which enters into force today, is a major overhaul of the EU's Plant Health legislation which has been in place since 1977. It will repeal and replace seven Council Directives on harmful organisms and will become fully applicable on 13 December 2019.
Why is plant health so important?
Plants form the basis of our food chain: without plant production there would be neither food for humans nor feed for animals. They are also a part of the natural environment in which we live, as well as the landscape of our daily lives. Therefore outbreaks of plant diseases may have devastating effects on the quality of our lives and our economy. Plant diseases may affect the livelihoods of farmers, nursery owners or traders, the quality and prices of our food as well as the condition of our forests and parks.
The example of the recent outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa in Italy is very symptomatic. Notification on the presence of this pest was received for the first time in 2013 when it was already widely spread in the region of Apulia, the heart of Italy's olive production area. The disease has seriously damaged the agricultural economy, as well as the traditional landscape of the region.
An outbreak of pine wood nematode in Portugal has caused a significant economic loss for the local timber industry since 1999: it has destroyed millions of pine trees, affected negatively the productivity of the timber processing industry and increased the costs as all pine wood needs to be heat-treated before it can leave the Portuguese territory.
Destructive plant pests can take various forms – viruses, bacteria, insects, fungi, etc. It is therefore important to introduce the most efficient measures in order to prevent the pests entering the EU or to eradicate them immediately if found present in its territory.
What is the EU's added-value in this area?
Billions of plants and plant products move every year within the borderless internal market of the EU, or are imported from non-EU countries. The sites of their production and destination are also countless. New devastating pests, however, do not stop at the customs. It is therefore necessary that common rules are adopted at the EU level concerning the production, inspection, sampling, testing, import, movement and certification of plant material, as well as the notification, detection or eradication of the pests that the plant material might host. This is important in order to ensure the same level of phytosanitary protection within the EU and a level playing field for the numerous EU producers and traders.
What are the new rules on plant health about?
The new Regulation focuses particularly on the prevention of entry or spread of plant pests within the EU territory. It is based on the conclusion that we need to allocate more resources at an early stage in order to prevent future heavy losses due to the destruction of our agricultural production or the environment by those pests.
It sets out detailed rules for the early detection and eradication of Union quarantine pests if found present in the EU territory. These rules establish obligations for the notification of outbreaks by professional operators, surveys and multiannual survey programmes, demarcation of areas for the purpose of eradication, as well as enhanced requirements for the priority pests as described above.
Under the new Regulation, all Member States will have to immediately proceed with the eradication of a Union quarantine pest if found present in an area where it was not known to be present. This means that they will no longer be allowed to proceed unilaterally with containment, namely to skip the eradication step and simply take measures to restrict the presence of the pests in a particular area.
Will the new rules be simpler?
Plant pests currently fall under different legal acts depending on their quarantine status or whether they affect the quality of plant reproductive material. This can lead to confusion among the users of those acts, within and also outside of the EU. It is thus important to ensure clarity and transparency for all affected parties, and notably for the competent authorities and the professional operators concerned.
Therefore the new Regulation will list all pests together, under three main categories:
- Union quarantine pests: Not present at all in the EU territory or, if present, just locally and under official control (examples include Citrus black spot, which is not present in the EU, and Xylella which is present in a few specific locations only). Strict measures must be taken to prevent their entry or further spread within the EU due to their increased risk for plant health. These pests have to be eradicated immediately if detected.
- Protected zone quarantine pests: Present in most parts of the Union, but still known to be absent in certain demarcated areas called 'protected zones' (for example grape phylloxera, which is present in the territory of the EU but not in Cyprus which is designated as protected zone for this pest). These pests are thus not allowed to enter and spread within these protected zones. Measures are taken (such as prohibition or restriction of movement of commodities, surveys, etc.) to avoid the introduction of these pests into the protected zones or to ensure their eradication if found present in these zones.
- Regulated non-quarantine pests: Widely present in the EU territory but, since they have an impact on the quality of the plants, plant reproductive material on the market should be guaranteed free or almost free from the pest (for example, the fungus Verticillium albo-atrum is known to be harmful to the apple production in the EU, therefore certified apple trees are not allowed to enter the EU market if more than 2% of the examined quantity is contaminated with the fungus). This way the starting quality and economic value of many agricultural crops as well as forestry and fruit plants can be ensured.
What are"priority pests"?
The new Regulation introduces the concept of “priority pests”. These are the Union quarantine pests with the most severe potential impacts on the economy, environment and/or society of the EU. They will be subject to enhanced measures concerning surveys, action plans for their eradication, contingency plans and simulation exercises. The prioritisation of the most harmful pests is necessary for the EU and the individual Member States in order to focus their resources in the most efficient manner for the protection of the agricultural production and environment. Enhanced EU co-financing to achieve these objectives is foreseen.
The list of these priority pests will be adopted through a delegated act, as close as possible to the date of application of this Regulation (end of 2019). It will be based on the criteria fixed by the Regulation and the assessments of the severity of the impacts of those pests.
Will imports of plants and plant products from non-EU countries be affected?
The import of most plants and plant products from non-EU countries will in principle be allowed, subject to certain conditions. Some will be prohibited or subject to very strict requirements if a risk assessment indicates that this is necessary due to the pests they might host. The new Regulation sets out more precise rules about the risk assessment and risk management supporting such measures.
Under the new Regulation, the Commission is further required to adopt within two years a list of so-called high risk plants or plant products. The import of these commodities will be prohibited as long as no detailed risk assessment has been carried out to determine if such imports should be acceptable and, if yes, under which conditions.
All living plant material (namely entire plants, fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, seeds, etc.) will only be imported into the EU if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate confirming their compliance with the EU legislation. The Commission will adopt within two years a list of plant materials to be exempted from that certification if they are deemed safe for the EU territory.
Finally, for specific cases where there is little experience with trade of certain plants or plant products and where related pest risks are still unknown, the new Regulation sets out the possibility to introduce temporarily phytosanitary import restrictions or even a prohibition until more scientific information becomes available.
Will passengers be allowed to bring with them plants/plant products from their trips outside the EU?
In principle, passengers will no longer be allowed to introduce into the EU plants/plant products from non-EU countries if they are not accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. However, harmonised exemptions to this general rule might be granted through a Commission implementing act, setting out the maximum quantity of plant material that might be allowed to be introduced by the passengers into the EU without phytosanitary certificate.
What will be the new rules concerning plant passports?
Plant passports are the documents that accompany plants and certain plant products while moving within the Union and certify their phytosanitary health status. Under the new Regulation, all plant passports will be issued using a common format, thus facilitating their visibility and making them more easily recognisable throughout the EU.
Plant passports will now be required for the movement of all plants for planting, (under the current legislation, plant passports are required only for certain plants for planting). This is important in order to ensure the absence of quarantine pests and traceability for this important category of plants, which mostly consists of plant reproductive material or plants in pots.
However, in order to avoid disproportionate administrative burdens, no plant passports will be required when the plants are transferred to non-professional consumers (e.g. in places like flower shops or other retail shops).
What will be the new obligations for the professional operators?
The new Regulation recognises the role that professional operators will have to play in the safe production and movement of healthy plants/plant products.
As mentioned above, the professional operators will have to notify any quarantine pest they find in the areas of their control. For the purpose of more efficient controls, the professional operators will have to be registered by the competent authorities. The professional operators will also have to ensure the traceability of the regulated plants/plant products they receive from and submit to other professional operators.
Professional operators will be allowed to issue plant passports, under the supervision of the competent authorities. To that purpose they will have to be authorised specifically by the authorities, subject to specific conditions.
What is the role of the national authorities?
Member States' competent authorities will play a key role in the implementation of these rules. They will be responsible for a great array of activities such as surveys, eradication of outbreaks, contingency plans, simulation exercises, notification of pest occurrences, controls of imports, registration of professional operators, authorisation of professional operators to issue plant passports and other attestations.
In this respect, the new Regulation will be complemented, in the coming months, by the Regulation on Official Controls which will set out the obligations of Member States with regards to official controls and other official activities.
Why will the Regulation be applicable only in three years' time?
To replace the existing legislation, it was decided that an EU Regulation was the right instrument, since it is directly and universally applicable throughout the EU. During the next three years, a string of delegated and implementing acts needs to be adopted. This period will also be used by competent authorities and professional operators to adjust to the new common rules.
For more information
Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 on protective measures against pests of plants