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Plant health

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The introduction and spread of plant pests, such as fungi, bacteria, viruses and insects, among food crops, natural vegetation and landscape plants 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. One of the key tasks of the EFSA Plant Health (PLH) Panel is to conduct pest risk assessments using a wide-range of specialist expertise and the most current scientific knowledge available in order to provide scientific advice to the European Commission.

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EFSA’s role

The PLH Panel started its work in the summer of 2006. On request from the European Commission the PLH Panel assesses whether a specific plant pest should be considered for inclusion in the EU lists of harmful organisms by conducting pest categorisations and/or pest risk assessments or in some cases by evaluating pest risk assessments produced by a third party.

Since the introduction in 2016 of the new Plant Health Law (see EU regulatory framework), EFSA has embarked on a number of interconnected projects aimed at supporting the European Commission’s efforts to protect the EU territory from plant pests and diseases and to assist Member States in preparing for future phytosanitary threats.

These include:

  • Horizon scanning for new pests through monitoring of the media and scientific literature. EFSA, in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Member States, regularly screens scientific and other relevant publications and the media to identify new, emerging or recurring pests that might be of concern to the EU territory. EFSA compiles a monthly newsletter of the most important reports which it shares with the Commission and plant authorities in Member States.
  • Production of a “tool kit” for plant pest surveillance, comprising survey guidelines, factsheets and statistical tools to help Member States carry out surveillance of plant pests in their territories and to harmonise surveillance methods across the EU. Survey cards are being produced throughout 2018, 2019 and 2020 and EFSA is organising dedicated workshops with Member States on specific pests.
  • Working with the JRC to support the establishment of a list of priority quarantine pests for the EU, as required by the Plant Health Law. Pests will be listed as priorities according to the social, economic and environmental impact they can be expected to have in the EU. The JRC is developing a model to be used to compile the list, using data and impact assessments on crops, forest and landscape plants in the EU provided by EFSA.
  • Risk assessments of high-risk plant commodities. As required by the Plant Health Law, the European Commission has drawn up a list of high-risk plants whose entry into the EU is prohibited. EFSA will carry out assessments of the listed plants so that the Commission can decide whether they should remain prohibited or be de-listed. Prior to beginning this work in 2019, EFSA published a report detailing the information third countries need to provide when challenging prohibition of a plant or plant product, followed by guidance explaining the methodology EFSA will use when carrying out the assessments.

The PLH Panel applies a quantitative risk methodology to its work. A recent example is the pest risk assessment for the EU territory of the fall army worm Spodoptera frugiperda, a South American insect that has spread rapidly in the last two years over sub-Saharan Africa and is now spreading in Asia.

EU 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. Directive 2000/29/EC has been superseded by Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 (the Plant Health Law), which came into force in December 2016 and will be applicable from 14 December 2019.

The new regulation was drawn up following an extensive review by the European Commission in 2013, with the aim of strengthening the EU’s protection against plant pests. It also aims to ensure safe trade, as well as to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the health of crops and forests

For more information

European Commission: Plant Health and biosecurity

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Expert groups

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Experts in pest risk assessment, plant pathology, epidemiology, and ecology.