Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson agreed last week to accept all the recommendations of the Tree health & plant biosecurity taskforce published in May.
At the time the taskforce report was published, the minister agreed to accept three of its recommendations relating to risk assessment, contingency planning and appointment of a chief plant health officer.
During the intervening months, Defra has produced a single, prioritised plant health risk register has now been produced and is starting to use it to identify risks from specific pests and diseases and agree priorities for action. A variety of NFU policy adviser and grower representatives were involved in feeding into workshops developing the risk register.
Defra has also started to put in place new procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to ensure they can predict, monitor and control the spread of pests and pathogens. The expectation it to see the results of this work next summer and this will help ensure the UK is ready to deal effectively with future incursions of diseases and is also able to respond better to those that are already established.
We understand that Defra is also in the process of recruiting a chief plant health officer and an announcement is planned early in the new year.
Last week the minister accepted the remaining recommendations to
- review, simplify and strengthen governance and legislation
- improve the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree health and plant biosecurity
- strengthen biosecurity to reduce risk at the border and within the UK
- develop a modern, user-friendly system to provide quick and intelligent access to information about tree health and plant biosecurity
- address key skills shortages.
To deliver on these recommendations, Defra is developing an enhanced plant health programme that will cover all plants (not just trees, which were the focus of the taskforce’s report). Details of the programme will be set out in a new plant health strategy, set to be published in spring 2014.
Defra says that the strategy will set out a new approach to biosecurity for our plants and will include
- pre-border activities to reduce the risk of pests and diseases arriving here from overseas, including work with countries beyond the EU to drive up standards
- activities at the border to reduce the risk of pests and diseases entering the EU and the UK, and
- action inland to step up surveillance and improve preparedness.
This work will be informed by the risk register, which is due to be published in January.
The NFU will be attending a summit with government in January, when an initial version of the strategy will be discussed.