New Plant Health Regulation came into force on 14 December 2019. This requires significant changes to the plant passporting of some horticultural products intended for planting, with an aim to increase biosecurity and protection from plant pests.
In October 2016, the EU adopted Plant Health Regulation (EU) 2016/2031, which entered into force in December 2016 and applies from 14 December 2019 to all EU member states, including the UK. As this regulation entered into force in 2016 it was carried over into UK legislation under the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
What does the regulation do?
The purpose of the regulation is to strengthen biosecurity controls to protect the EU from quarantine pests by preventing introduction and effectively dealing with any outbreaks. Measures for monitoring, identifying and predicting risks are strengthened through new rules for plant movements, including commercial movements, via postal services, with travellers.
It strengthens measures around identifying risks, horizon scanning and surveillance. Specifically it requires plant businesses (growing, importing/exporting plants), to have in place processes that allow tracking and traceability of plants and plant material. This means plant material moving from a third country into the EU will require a phytosanitary certificate; and plant material moving within the EU, including within individual countries and even between premises of a single business, requires a plant passport.
What is covered?
Plant passports are only required for plant material that is or could be planted: this includes all ornamental plants, propagation material, some seed (including certain vegetable seeds and potato seed and tubers, i.e. seed potatoes), certain oilseed crops, and also for potted herbs for culinary use. Plant passports will not be required for fruit and vegetables, with a few exceptions such as certain citrus.
How is a plant passport used?
Plant passports have to meet specific requirements in terms of content and format, and they have to be attached to the ‘trade unit’ of the plants. This could mean a tray of plants, but in many cases it will mean the individual pot or even directly onto the plant.
Plant passports are not required for direct supply to final users (i.e. members of the public). But this excludes distance selling, where plant material sold to a final user will require a plant passport.
What is the impact of this?
The UK Government (with the agreement of industry) pushed for many of these changes and tightening of controls. So we have no particular issue with the principles. The concerns arise around implementation and what this means in terms of day-to-day requirements for growers’ businesses on the ground.
The requirements around plant passporting and subsequent cost have been highlighted as significant concerns, with the estimated cost of labels ranging from 4p - 20p. For some businesses the cost of this will run into tens of thousands of pounds.
UK Plant Health has now released guidance on the composition and use of the plant passports which is available on Gov.uk and the SRSF pages of the Plant Health Portal (as well as in the Introductory Guide). As stated above, it is also possible to attached plant passports to boxes, trays, and even mixed trolleys (if that trolley is going direct to retail).
Furthermore, there is significant confusion within the industry about the specific detail of this regulation, as well as concern about the timescales for preparation for the implementation date. The NFU is raising these concerns with Defra and APHA, calling for clear communication and guidance, as well as support for growers as they work to implement the new regulation.
There are also some Brexit issues involved here, which have further confused industry understanding of the regulation. As a simple example, as it stands the regulation requires the plant passport to include the EU flag, but in a no deal scenario the UK would replace the EU plant passport system with a UK plant passport system, which requires all reference to the EU to be replaced with UK.
Furthermore, to trade with the EU as a third country the UK would need to use phytosanitary certificates. To date, the government has issued guidance around what a no-deal Brexit means if you are importing and exporting plants and plant products.
However, this guidance is written in the context of the current requirements, and only refers to the new requirements to be implemented from 14 December in terms of exports from the UK to the EU in a no deal scenario, where all plants, fruits and vegetables would need a phytosanitary certificate.
The NFU is working with other industry groups to raise grower’s concerns with Government Plant Health, and more specifically, with the middle of December looming and in the busy Christmas plant season, it is vital businesses get clear guidance from government regarding what the requirements on the ground will be for plant passporting.