David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Unwelcome Guests

The Highland News, November 2016

Whether they be blue or burgundy, it is not just the passports of UK citizens that will have to be re-considered post-Brexit.
European Union plant health rules cover the movement and trade within the EU of certain plants and products which may be carriers of harmful organisms. When these plant products are moved into and between EU member countries, a ‘plant passport’ is necessary to accompany them once they have passed all EU checks.

For over three years the EU has been trying to update its plant health legislation to avoid the entry of non-native harmful pests and diseases. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament, which includes Labour MEPs, has been pushing for the strengthening of this system and this month we voted to support stronger protection of EU plants from imported pests or organisms such as insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses.

Scotland’s forests and those who manage them face a constant challenge of preventing a range of potentially very damaging plant pests and diseases entering from abroad. Often these organisms cause no damage in their native habitats but in new environments they can spread very quickly especially where there is a lack of the environmental or biological controls that may control them in their original location. Climate change is also playing a part because in our increasingly warmer and wetter climate some exotic pests and pathogens find it easier to survive and become established.

Our fascination with exotic plants and trees in parks and gardens has created a thriving trade in live plants. With this has come a desire for instant results and this has produced a high demand for semi-mature trees and shrubs, a high proportion of which come from overseas suppliers. Despite existing controls, some unwelcome guests are difficult to detect and are entering in the soil of potted trees, plants and shrubs. Recent epidemics have broken out in Europe as a direct consequence of uncontrolled imports of infected plants and organisms from outside the EU. Plant pests or harmful organisms such as insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses can seriously damage plants. The new strengthened regulations approved this month have been designed to establish a plant health regime in Europe able to prevent and effectively control the problem.

In a globalised economy with plants and fruit crossing the globe every day it is very important to have an effective system to protect Europe’s agriculture. With the new law, there will be a list of high-risk plants, temporary bans on suspicious products and further development of the 'plant-passport' system to trace all plants allowed to enter EU territory. The new controls also support a rapid alert system and contamination plans in case of any outbreak.

Hopefully this new legislation will ensure full traceability and provide both the flexibility and the precautions that today's economy needs. At least for the time being. As important as this is, it will regrettably become just one more in the myriad of EU regulations that will need time-wasting reconsideration in post-Brexit Britain.

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