Draconian EU plant health proposals thwarted

Chalara fraxinea pathogenLast week, following an intense and long-period of lobbying by the NFU, MEPs voted against draconian plant health proposals that could have bought European horticulture grinding to a halt, stifled innovation and unduly restricted the development of new trades.

The plant health proposal, initially put forward by Spanish and then later by French MEPs, was for there to be a ‘closed system’ applied to all traded plant material, including ornamental plants, fruit, vegetables and flowers, and propagation material. This would have meant that to trade in this material, an assessment of plant health risks would need to be undertaken, and only if the material passed the required assessments would it be placed on a positive list and the trade would be permitted.

The aim was a laudable one – to prevent plant health problems arising as the result of new trades where risks are poorly understood. But the ‘closed system’ way of going about this would have added significant unnecessary bureaucracy and closed down trade in material that we already know is low risk.

The debate fundamentally was around the friction between free and open international trade and controlling the new plant health threats and problems that trade might spread. And arguably there were also moves to try and use strict plant health measures in a protectionist way against imports of plant material from outside of Europe.

While international trade is not necessarily the primary interest of all British growers, many of them depend on imported seed and propagation material, and this international trade is also the route by which many of the new and innovative products grown in the UK arrive.

The NFU recognizes that there is a need to tighten plant health measures to effectively prevent the spread of new pests and diseases, but this should be done by targeting where there is greatest risk, rather than by a closed system approach that initially captures all trades irrespective of risk.

The NFU has working with MEPs and the UK Government permanent representation in Brussels, and lobbying against the proposals for a closed system since February. We’ve spent a lot of time reminding MEPs from other countries about their previous support for the Commission’s objective to simplify and clarify the current provisions on plant health, and their support for a system that is risk-based, effective and proportionate – support which many of them seemed to have forgotten following more recent proposals for a closed system.

Last week, voting in the European Parliament successfully defeated the proposal. Instead of the closed system, the proposal is to strengthen measures that focus on high risk ‘emerging trades’. Member States would be able to introduce temporary measures on all plants, plant products and other objects imported from outside the EU in cases of high risk trade or where risks are unknown.

This risk-based approach is a good step forward, and it serves as a great demonstration of the value of the NFU lobbying done via our offices in Brussels.

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