Plant Harmful organisms in the EU – Annual report 2014

Article 16 (1) and (2) of Directive 2000/29/EC, requires that Member States immediately notify the European Commission and other Member States, of the presence or appearance of harmful organisms found on their territory or part of it, as well as the measures taken to eradicate or avoid the spread of the harmful organism concerned.

This is required whether the harmful organisms are regulated (specifically listed in European Union (EU) legislation) or not. The European Commission analyses and reports on these notifications on a continuous basis and provides monthly reports on notifications received to the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Plant Health, in order to assist risk management decisions at EU level.

This report provides an overview of the notifications received from Member States in 2014, as well as the main trends in the period 2010 to 2014.

The total number of notifications received annually has remained relatively stable since 2010. In 2014, a total of 220 notifications were received from 27 Member States. Approximately two thirds of these related to regulated harmful organisms. 19 were updates to previous notifications.

Some of the notifications received in 2014 give rise to concern because of the seriousness of the particular harmful organisms and because of their first finding or their spread in the EU territory. Some of these harmful organisms are currently non–regulated in the EU. However, because of the potential risk they present, they are listed in the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation Alert list, i.e. identified as good candidates for a Pest Risk Analysis.

At EU level, actions have been planned or are being taken with a view to addressing these risks. As in previous years, the number of notifications varies significantly between Member States which could reflect a different interpretation of Member States’ obligations pursuant to Article 16 (1) and (2).

Furthermore, despite some improvement compared to previous year, notifications still present a consistent lack of certain information which hinders the risk management decision process and capacity to have a clear picture of the effectiveness of phytosanitary measures implemented and of the status of the different harmful organisms in the EU. The adoption of Decision 2014/917/EU in December 2014, which sets out detailed rules for the implementation of Article 16 (1) and (2), combined with the development of a web-based notification system (EUROPHYT) and a common protocol for notifications, are expected to foster the harmonisation of practices between Member States. This should help timely decisions at EU level for an increased level of protection of the EU territory against phytosanitary risks.

In 2014, a large proportion of the outbreak notifications (72%) either did not make any reference to the source of the infestation or stated that it was unknown. Out of the 201 outbreak notifications, only 57 provided information on the possible source of the infestation. As regards movements within the EU, infested planting material is often considered as the likely source of the infestation.

Between the new risks identified the well known Xylella fastidiosa in coffee plants was the most dangerous. Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium listed in Annex IAI, was first found in the EU in 2013, in the province of Lecce in Italy where a sudden decline of olives was observed. This finding was closely followed up by the Commission in consultation with the Standing Committee, and EU emergency measures were adopted in February 2014. In addition, a Commission audit was carried out to the affected area in February 2014, followed by 3 further audits since then to assess the situation and control measures implemented by the Competent Authorities. Amongst other exchanges of information with Italy, three notifications were received in 2014 in which Italy reported new vectors, new host plants and the extent of the infestation in the Lecce region (see also section 4.2.1). Regarding the findings on Coffea plants referred to in section 4.2.1, an import ban on such plants from Costa Rica and Honduras has been introduced with Commission Implementing Decision 2015/789/EU to protect the EU from further introductions from these origins.

For more information see also the EU Commission infographic.

EU to ease import conditions for sunflower oil from Ukraine

“Today I publish another article of my friend and food lawyer in Lisbon, Francesco Montanari, written in cooperation with his colleague Veronika Jèzso; thank you both for this and for your great expertise on food import requirements”.

Early in July this year the European Commission in agreement with Member States decided to relax special imports conditions currently applicable to sunflower oil originating from Ukraine.  Import conditions are currently set out in Regulation (EC) No 1151/2009. By adopting Regulation (EU) No 853/2014, the Commission has formally repealed the existing emergency measures with effect as of 26 August 2014.

According to the Commission, the decision of easing the level of import surveillance on sunflower oil from Ukraine is justified by the absence of notifications reported through the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) over the past few years. This decision is, however, also politically motivated in that it aims at reducing pressure on the trade and the economy of a country that is experiencing considerable turmoil and instability.

With special import conditions poised to be lifted, sunflower oil from Ukraine will be subjected to the general EU import regime for food of non-animal origin as designed by Article 15 (1) Regulation (EC) No 882/2004.  This means that national enforcement authorities will still be able to target consignments of Ukrainian sunflower oil in the context of routine checks at EU borders or in the market.

The following paragraphs provides a brief account of a) the events that led to the adoption of EU emergency measures concerning the imports in question as well as of b) the import procedures that had to be followed till recently.

a) Contamination of sunflower oil with mineral oil

Paraffin oils are petroleum products used in a variety of industry sectors ranging from food production to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and engineering. Liquid paraffin, also known as ‘mineral oil’, is an odourless and colourless substance of relatively low value  mainly used for preventing water absorption. Paraffin oil is harmful if swallowed or inhaled.

Back in April 2008, the European Commission was notified information through the RASFF of a case of sunflower oil from Ukraine presenting high levels of mineral oil. Consulted on the potential risks ensuing from the contamination, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) pointed out that, taking into account human exposure estimates and the fact that the analysis detected a mineral oil of a high viscosity type, exposure levels, although undesirable, did not constitute a health concern.  Nevertheless, given that the source of contamination could not be identified with certainty, competent authorities in Member States ordered the withdrawal from the market of contaminated sunflower oil and other food containing it.

At EU level, the European Commission introduced interim protection measures through Decision 2008/388/EC, in order to ensure that no exports of sunflower oil reached the EU without being adequately certified and controlled.  Decision 2008/433/EC later confirmed the interim protection measures.

The Food Veterinary Office (FVO) conducted an audit in September 2008, in order to assess the official control system in place in Ukraine. The FVO team found that the Ukrainian authorities had undertaken adequate measures to prevent the contamination of sunflower oil destined to EU import. Yet, investigations carried out by the Ukrainian authorities could not reveal the source of the contamination, mainly because of lack of official sampling and subsequent follow-up. In order to ensure performance of sampling in accordance with the relevant EU provisions (i.e. Regulation (EC) No 333/2007), Regulation 1151/2009 was eventually adopted.

b) Import procedures under Regulation 1151/2009

Applicable as of January 2010, Regulation 1151/2009 applies to crude and refined sunflower seed oil originating or consigned from Ukraine (Article 1). Sunflower oil for EU import must not contain more than 50 mg/kg mineral paraffin (Article 3).

Each consignment of sunflower oil destined for EU import must be accompanied by:

a) a health certificate attesting that the product does not contain more than 50 mg/kg mineral paraffin, and

b) an analytical report, which, issued by an accredited laboratory, indicates the results of sampling and analysis for the presence of mineral oil, the measurement uncertainty of the analytical result, as well as the limits of detection and quantification of the analytical method.

Both documents must be duly signed by an authorised representative of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.

Furthermore, business operators must give prior notification to the first point of entry in the EU, specifying estimated date and time of arrival of the consignment (Article 3).

In terms of control activities, competent authorities in Member States must check that all incoming consignments intended for import are accompanied by the required documents. In order to ensure that relevant products do not contain unacceptable levels of mineral paraffin, national enforcement authorities are as well required to carry out physical inspections, including sampling and analysis, on a random basis (Article 4).