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, the European Commission has 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.

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 July. 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.

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.

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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