Speaking after a meeting on ash dieback at the Linnean Society in London, she said: "We are a department that is not protected but we are looking at being more efficient. We've increased the number of inspectors. It's important we still have a high level staff at ports."
Animal & Plant Health Agency staff said they are prepared for cuts but pointed out that Defra has to implement EU plant health directives and will be fined if it fails to fulfil its obligations. Spence said ash dieback has helped Defra to understand the supply chain.
At the ash dieback meeting, Queen Mary University of London genomist Dr Richard Buggs discussed results of surveys on seven actions that could deal with ash dieback, ranging from doing nothing to trans-genesis or genetic modification. Spence said: "At the moment GM ash is not something we're planning to do. But we're interested to know the potential for that in the future."
Buggs gave results of a survey of 1,300 people that found 83 per cent would be "very concerned" if ash disappeared from the British countryside. Preferred action to deal with ash dieback included breeding native tolerant ash (49 per cent), accelerating breeding of native ash (42.8 per cent) and cross-breeding native and non-native ash (41.3 per cent). No action and trans genetics were the least favoured options.
Some 38 per cent were against planting GM ash in natural woodlands and 17 per cent opposed GM ash in plantations. Some 58 per cent said the public's views should be taken into account in adopting a tree modification solution. Buggs has £1m Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council funding for ash dieback research.