New European Union legislation implemented to tackle the global spread of pests and disease, with changes on the horizon for the industry
The case for a new Plant Passport system
As far back as 2013, the European Commission, the body responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, acknowledged the value of horticulture and the contribution plants and crops made to European agriculture, forestry, horticulture and natural heritage. The European Commission was also acutely aware of the risks posed to plant health by global trade, compounded by climate change.
A change in legislation was deemed essential to ensure global trade did not become a cause of widespread plant pest and disease within the European Union. To achieve this, an upgrade to the rules concerning plant importation and movement within the European Union was required. Specifically:
- Greater scrutiny of plants entering the EU from third countries and increased traceability of product
- Introduction of better surveillance and early eradication of outbreaks of new pests and disease
Awareness of risks from pests and disease in 2013 was sadly prophetic. Recent years have represented a dark period for both native species and non-native plants imported for use by landscape professionals. Oak processionary moth, ash dieback, Asian longhorn beetle and xylella are just a few of the pests and diseases that have the potential to cause ecological, environmental and socio-economic harm.
The solution proposed by the European Commission is a suite of 3 regulations collectively called Smarter Rules for Safer Foods, which applied to EU member states from 14th December 2019. The name reflects the wider role of plant health in relation to successful agriculture and forestry, as well as protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.
The regulation applicable to the landscape industry is Plant Health Regulation (PHR) 2016/2031: Controls for protecting plants from pests and diseases. The full wording of this regulation is available here.
Scotland and Ireland are subject to their own guidance, either Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) or Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) respectively.
Application of PHR regardless of Brexit
The plant health regulation applies in the UK whilst we are in the EU, but also during any transition period. Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the PHR will continue to apply until UK parliament amend it.
Changes as a result of PHR:
1. Plant passport requirement
Application of regulation 2016/2031 will result in stricter controls on imports into the EU, but also internal EU movements of plants and plant products, for example when moving plants and plant products within England and Wales.
PHR applies to plants to be planted, plants that remain planted or plants that may be replanted. It also applies to seeds, wood and bark.
Plants and plantproducts which must have passports for all movements can be found here.
Plants which require plant passports within protected zones can be found here.
Hosts of xylella fastidiosa that require a plant passport for all wholesale movement can be found here.
Issuing plant passports
For business already issuing plant passports, registration will simply be rolled over on to the new system. Businesses who have not issued plant passports before, but are now required to, will need to contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in England and Wales. Businesses in Scotland or Northern Ireland should consult their competent authority.
Operating with the new plant passport system
Under the new legislation, UK-based plant nurseries and wholesalers will be tasked with operating a more stringent plant passport system, requiring businesses to apply passports to a wider range of plants, right down to the smallest trade unit at the relevant marketing stage.
Landscape contractors are identified by Defra as ‘professional operators’. This category includes any person involved professionally in, and legally responsible for, one of more of the following activities concerning plants, plant products and other materials:
- production, including growing, multiplying and maintaining
- introduction into, and movement within and out of, the EU
- making available on the market
- storage, collection, dispatching and processing
Whilst professional operators may not necessarily issue plant passports, they have an important role in the new system in helping traceability of material in the supply chain.
Landscape contractors are required to retain plant passports for a period of three years. Landscape professionals must also record who supplied them with material and a passport, and where they used/planted this material. Landscape professionals must also record who they passed plant passports to, if they are part of a longer supply chain.
2. Changes to restrictions on plants, plant products and other objects imported into the EU from third countries
New classification of high-risk plants
The PHR is responsible for introducing a new category of high-risk plants and plant products, which prohibits the importation of any high-risk plants or plant products into the EU until a full risk assessment has been carried out by the European Food Safety Authority.
At present, the following are classified as high risk plants:
Most recent version of the high-risk plant list can be found here.
Increased scope of phytosanitary certificates
Under the PHR, all plants and living parts of plants need to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate if they are being imported into the EU from a third country. The only exceptions to this rule are five tropical fruits: pineapple, coconut, durian, banana and dates. Plant products such as fruit and vegetables, which have been processed and packaged are also exempt.
Defra operative an electronic system called ‘PEACH’ which allows businesses to notify Defra of imports. From 16th January 2020, there will an additional number of plant products and other commodities that require prior notification of import through the PEACH system. The full list of additional commodities are listed in Annex XI Part A of the following document here.