FERA to agree steps with industry to keep flea beetle pest out of UK

The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) is holding a meeting next month for the potato industry to agree a plan of action to fight the Epitrix potato flea beetle.

The beetle is a potentially serious threat to production because its feeding activity lowers the quality of tubers and renders potato crops unmarketable. FERA wants proposals put forward to stop the beetle entering the UK.

In April last year, FERA reported that two of the five known Epitrix species, which hail from America, were known to be present in all Portuguese potato growing areas and in Spain.

Since then, damage typical of Epitrix has been reported in the Netherlands and in Northern Ireland on consignments of ware potatoes imported from Portugal.

In October, FERA launched a consultation with the industry to find out how best to deal with the pest.The NFU called for national legislative measures to be introduced requiring that potatoes only be imported from areas deemed to be free of the pest or that potatoes from infested countries - namely Portugal and Spain - are washed or dry-brushed at source.

However, not all consultees shared the same views. An NFU representative said: "FERA has no clear mandate to move forward with national legislation to ban the introduction of potatoes from areas or to require potatoes to be washed or brushed prior to introduction. These are the measures that would have afforded the greatest level of protection for UK potato growers from this devastating pest."

FERA told Grower that a date for the next meeting had not yet been confirmed but it was likely to take place in mid February.

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