EUROPHYT Annual Report 2014 – Plant health interceptions in EU

EUROPHYT is the plant health interception, notification and rapid alert system for the EU Member States and Switzerland, managed by the European Commission.

This report presents key statistics on the 2014 notifications and provides analysis of trends in interceptions, based on annual figures from the period 2010-2014. In 2014, EUROPHYT received 6,662 notifications about consignments intercepted by the Member States and Switzerland due to non-conformity with EU requirements. The vast majority of which (96%) related to plants, plant products and objects from Third Countries (TCs).

The 2014 total was slightly down on the 2013 level (6,997).

Interceptions from Third Countries

In the case of goods from TC, approximately 37% of the interceptions were due to the presence of harmful organisms (HO), approximately 30% due to non-compliance of wood packaging material (WPM) with international phytosanitary requirements for the treatment of wood material (ISPM 15), and approximately 25% attributable to documentary problems.

For interceptions due to the presence of HOs, the main commodities intercepted were fruit and vegetables (73%), WPM (11%), cut flowers (7%) and planting material (4%). Almost two thirds of the HO interceptions related to nine TCs, each having more than 100 interceptions, namely, Ghana, Cambodia, India, China, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uganda and Kenya. Seven commodities accounted for 71% of the interceptions on fruit and vegetables: mango, peppers, gourds (Momordica spp., Luffa spp.), basil, eggplant, and citrus fruit.

The consignments were mainly infested with non-European fruit flies, white flies and thrips. 2014 saw a very significant increase in the interceptions of false codling moth and this HO is being considered for listing as a regulated pest. Commission emergency measures with regard to citrus black spot on imports of citrus fruit from South Africa remained in place for the 2014 season. In spite of efforts made by South Africa to implement these measures, and other additional measures, there was only a limited decrease in the level of interceptions in 2014 compared to previous years.

The main sources of interceptions for the presence of HOs in Wood Packaging Material were China, India and Vietnam. There was a consistent increase in the number of HO interceptions associated with WPM from TCs since 2011. Most of the HO interceptions were attributable to India and China, where HOs continued to be encountered in ISPM 15 marked consignments, raising wider plant health and export system concerns from these TCs. The main HOs were longhorn beetles and other wood and bark insects, and pinewood nematodes. As regards cut flowers, the main HOs intercepted were Gypsophila spp., Rosa spp., Solidago spp., orchids, Eryngium spp. and Chrysanthemum spp., infested mainly with Liriomyza spp., Spodoptera spp., Thrips spp. and Bemisia spp. Bemisia tabaci (non-European populations) was the most intercepted HO with planting material.

In response to the risks posed by certain interceptions, the Commission took a number of measures to address the high level of interceptions from a number of TCs. These measures have resulted in a drop in the number of interceptions of imports from Cambodia, Thailand, Pakistan, India and the Dominican Republic. For other TCs, such as Ghana, Bangladesh and Uganda, there has been no improvement, or even deterioration despite measures taken.

Specific measures taken in relation to WPM from China have not yet resulted in a reduced level of interceptions. In the cases of China and India, there was a high number of interceptions due to the presence of HOs in WPM bearing the ISPM15 mark. This situation is a cause for concern as it means that the presence of the ISPM15 mark cannot always be taken as providing an assurance of compliance. Four HOs, considered not present or recorded from within the EU where intercepted for the first time in 2014: Tinthia cymbalistis, Psylliodes punctifrons, Acalolepta spp. and Anastrepha fraterculus. The second largest category of interceptions from TCs concerns non-compliance with the ISPM standard for the treatment of WPM (1,918 cases) originating mainly from Russia, USA, China, India, Turkey and Belarus. Such interceptions account for most of the interceptions from the Russian Federation (88%) and most of the interceptions from the USA and China (46% and 48% respectively).

Interceptions in intra-EU trade

As regards interceptions in trade between EU Member States, the number of intercepted consignments continued to decline. Interceptions concerned mainly planting material, followed by fruit and vegetables (including ware potatoes) and cut flowers. The overall decline reflects a reduction in interceptions of WPM and pinewood from Portugal and in ware potatoes from Poland demonstrating the effectiveness of improved control measures (the number of interceptions for the presence of ring rot reduced to one in 2014).

On the other hand, there were increased interceptions of commodities from NL most of which were of planting material with HOs, including Bemisia tabaci (intercepted by an EU protected zone for such), Phytophthora ramorum and a number of cases with Xylella fastidiosa (on ornamental coffee plants originating in Central America). Due to on-going efforts by MS the delays in making EUROPHYT notifications has decreased considerably since 2010, and appears to be stabilising at or around an EU average of 10 working days since 2012, although still above the two working days stipulated under EU legislation.

EU measures

New complimentary initiatives introduced by the Commission in 2014, including the publication on a non-EU trade Alert List, and the establishment of a Commission working group on Response to Emerging Risks from Imports (RERI), are helping the Commission, together with Member States, to timely identify where action needs to be taken to address risks from imports. In addition, the ongoing development of a HO outbreak database is anticipated to offer enhanced data management and plant health overview towards more integrated assessments of both import risk and outbreak management.

Notification of interceptions to the Commission

As regards notifications by Member States, 80% of all notifications were accounted for by nine MS and just three MS (UK, DE and NL) accounted for almost half of the total. Some MS (such as ES, IT, BE, GR, PT and RO) appear to have a low level of notifications relative to trade volumes.

(Source: DG Sante website)

EU to adopt and review SPS measures

Today I publish a guest article, written by my friend Francesco Montanari, Senior Associate at FARE (Food and Agriculture Requirements) and specialist in public affairs and relations, consultancy and legal counselling at EU-level, with particular focus on trade, labelling and food regulatory issues.

A)      EU ban on citrus fruit from South Africa

Early this December the EU adopted a ban on imports of citrus fruit, including lemons, oranges and tangerines, from South Africa. The ban follows several interceptions by EU Member States of imports from South Africa infested by black spot (Guignardia citricarpa). Black spot is a fungal plant disease that, although harmless to humans, can damage quality and quantity of citrus cultivation. Black spot is not present in Europe currently, thus its introduction may have a negative impact on European crops.

The ban is likely to have virtually no impact on trade for the time being: effectively, it applies only to imports harvested over the period 2012-2013. The EU, though, has the power to extend of the ban should the risk of spreading persist. Under those circumstances, impact on trade would be significant since exports of citrus fruit from that country accounts for one third of all EU imports.

The ban was adopted following discussions and negotiations at EU level in 2013. It is understood that South African government strongly opposed closure of EU borders to its exports for lack of conclusive scientific evidence as to the likelihood of the fungus spreading from picked fruit.

South Africa is not the only country that is currently subject to EU trade restrictions for exports of citrus fruit. Brazil, another major exporter of citrus fruits, has been subject since 2004 to specific import conditions to ensure consignments destined to imports in the EU are free from black spot (Decision 2004/417/EC as recently amended by Decision 2013/67/EU).

B) EU border surveillance on fruits and vegetables imported from non-EU countries

Always this month, the EU has updated the list of imported fruits and vegetables that are subject to reinforced border surveillance under Regulation (EC) No 669/2009. Following the fourteenth review of Annex I to that Regulation, the EU is planning to lift, as of 1 January 2014, border controls on:

  • hazelnuts from Azerbaijan (currently subject 10% of physical checks),
  • mace from Indonesia (10%) and India (10%),
  • ginger and curcuma from India (10%) –  all for possible contamination with aflatoxins, as well as
  • broccoli from Thailand (10%) for possible presence of pesticide residues.

Some of these products have been subject to increased levels of border controls for nearly four years. Overall, the relaxation of border surveillance is justified in light of the satisfactory levels of compliance emerging from the results of official controls performed by EU Member States. Nevertheless, controls will continue to be carried by national authorities – at the point of introduction, import or in the market – in accordance with what foreseen by Article 15 (1) of Regulation 882/2004 on official controls on food and feed.

Notwithstanding the announced changes, several imports will remain subject to a higher level of official controls at EU borders. Currently, China is the country with more products listed, including noodles (10% increased physical checks for detecting unauthorised use of aluminium), pomelos and tea (20% for pesticide residues) and frozen strawberries (5% for norovirus and hepatitis A).

C)      Emergency measures on certain imports of plant origin

Negotiations are currently ongoing at EU level in order to review Regulation (EC) 1152/2009 setting import conditions for certain products presenting a high risk of aflatoxins and Regulation (EU) No 91/2013 imposing import requirements on products of plant origin originating from Ghana, Nigeria and India.

As regards Regulation 1152/2009, amendments currently under discussion revolve around:

  • Extension of the scope of the measures to the products listed also when they are imported as feed,
  • Increase of the control intensity of identity and physical checks for certain products (dried figs from Turkey), reduction of frequency for others  (Brazilian nuts and hazelnuts from Turkey) and some delisting (US almonds),
  • The obligation for custom authorities to meticulously verify the content and the appropriate filling of the Common Entry Document accompanying the consignment (this in order to avoid imports being released for free circulation before official controls are completed).

As regards Regulation 91/2013, this safeguard measure foresees import requirements for products that were originally subject to Regulation 669/2009 and for which border controls showed very high levels of non-compliances.  The measure currently covers

  • Okra and curry leaves from India (pesticide residues),
  • Groundnuts and derived products from Ghana (aflatoxins)
  • Watermelon seeds from Nigeria (aflatoxins).

and allows importation of the above products only upon presentation by the importer of a health certificate and of results of laboratory tests performed in the country of origin.

An amendment currently under discussion would consider moving products that are listed for aflatoxins in Regulation 91/2013 to Regulation 1152/2009 since the controls follow the same rules. In principle, this should ensure greater consistency in the management of import policy on products of plant origin by the EU as well as in the implementation by the national control authorities.

D) Emerging risks?

Browsing the RASFF database is always an interesting exercise: it allows monitoring emerging and re-occurring risks. As regards imports of plant origin originating from non-EU countries, it is striking to look at the number of RASFF notifications for paan leaves from Bangladesh for presence of Salmonella (2012: 110 RASFF notifications; 2013: 23 notifications). Paan leaves are a traditional product that mostly Indian or Bangladeshi communities chew after meals.

Although the health risk associated with this product may be not of great concern and trade volume relatively low, it is difficult to justify the lack of action at EU level vis-à-vis a product that systematically fails to fulfil EU requirements.

Whether this issue would be better addressed through the adoption of an EU ban, stringent import requirements and/or by providing technical assistance to the exporting country, only EU policy-makers can provide these answers.

From the outside, however, it looks as if better use could be made of the resources currently deployed by the national authorities for the detection of a risk that is by now clearly ‘known’. By doing so, a better prioritisation of official controls would be ensured.