Plant health

The introduction and spread of plant pests, such as fungi, bacteria, viruses and insects, among food crops is a serious threat that can have far-reaching economic, social and environmental consequences. Plant pests are often introduced to areas previously unaffected through plant imports.

In Europe, protective measures against the introduction of new plant pests are based on regulatory controls on the movement of plants and plant products. The evaluation of the probability of plant pests being introduced and then spreading in an area and the assessment of the potential consequences help inform the decision making on protective measures. The key tasks of the EFSA Plant Health (PLH) Panel are to review pest risk assessments produced by the EU member states or third parties (non EU countries) using a wide-range of specialist expertise and the most current scientific knowledge available in order to provide scientific advice to the European Commission.

EU regulatory framework

Protective measures against the introduction into the European Union (EU) of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the EU are established by Council Directive 2000/29/EC. It contains lists of harmful organisms that threaten plant health in the EU.

The EU Council has approved “Guidelines for the EC coordination of pest risk analysis” aimed at clarifying the process of pest risk analysis in the EU and the roles of the different institutions involved. EFSA welcomes the guidelines and has published a document detailing EFSA’s role in plant health and in the implementation of these guidelines.

EFSA’s role and ongoing work

The PLH Panel started its work in the summer of 2006. On request from the European Commission the Panel assesses if a specific plant pest should be considered for inclusion in the EU lists of harmful organisms. The initial step for this assessment is evaluation of a pest risk assessment document produced by the party requesting measures under or amendments to the plant health directive.

For instance, in spring 2008 the PLH Panel concluded evaluation of pest risk assessments on 30 pests of banana and citrus crops in the French overseas departments. The risk assessments, carried out by the French authorities, were submitted to the European Commission who asked EFSA to evaluate them. The purpose of EFSA’s evaluation was to provide the European Commission with a scientific basis to align the plant health legislation of French overseas departments with the EU plant health regime. 

EFSA also evaluates documents relating to risks posed by plant pests submitted to the Commission by EU trade partners. In January 2009, EFSA issued an opinion on Guignardia citricarpa , a fungus that causes citrus black spot (CBS) disease.

EFSA published a scientific opinion on pest risk analysis for the oak processionary moth provided by the United Kingdom. The Commission asked the PLH Panel to consider whether the UK assessment could be extended to the whole EU territory.

In January 2010 EFSA’s PLH Panel adopted a guidance document that provides guiding principles on the process and methodology for assessing risks of pests to plant health. The document will contribute to the development of a harmonised framework for pest risk assessment in EFSA.

The majority of the work carried out by the PLH Panel involves the evaluation of pest risk assessment documents provided by the EU member states or third parties. These documents often follow different formats, and vary in terms of methodology and level of detail. In order to assist the evaluation process and ensure consistency and clarity, EFSA’s PLH Panel published a guidance document that describes the process and criteria used by the Panel for evaluating the pest risk assessment documents received.

Cooperation with EU Member States

To strengthen cooperation with the EU Member States and support the development of risk assessment methodologies in the area of plant health EFSA has launched several projects under Article 36 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation. The projects currently under way include an inventory of data sources and a comprehensive review of pest risk assessment models.

In October 2008 EFSA organised a special meeting of Advisory Forum plant health experts and discussed issues such as data needs for pest risk assessments and exchanged views on harmonisation in risk assessment methodology.

In 2007 the Scientific Colloquium on pest risk assessment provided a forum for discussing the different scientific approaches to pest risk assessment and possible joint efforts by EU Member States, third countries and international organisations to further develop harmonised approaches.

For more information

Plant Health – European Commission, DG Health and Consumers