FERA deems protected zones for Tuta Absoluta too stringent

The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) has deemed the introduction of protected zone status, which would require plant passports, too stringent a measure for the control of Tuta absoluta in the UK.

It has instead opted to let the industry continue to control the pest through the current national measures and will review this process some time in the next two years.

FERA's decision follows a consultation launched last year to ask growers what the UK's policy should be on controlling the pest, which last year spread to 11 growing sites and 21 pack houses.

Those who responded to the consultation included Wight Salads Group, the Fresh Produce Consortium, (FPC) the RHS, the British Tomato Growers' Association and the NFU.

Justin Dixon of FERA's plant health policy department said: "This approach is the best one taking account of the current situation regarding the pest and the varied views expressed by stakeholders.

"In reaching this conclusion, we have taken note of the fact that protected zone status would impose certain responsibilities and burdens on the industry and official services and it is too early to establish whether these would be achievable or justified.

"In particular, the introduction of plant passporting would have to be considered, as well as ensuring place of production freedom for tomato producing premises intending to move fruit into and within a protected zone. This would impact on those supplying the UK (as well as producers and traders within the UK) and could result in some of the supply restrictions that are feared.

"At this stage it is unclear whether eradication within a two-year period (as required under the Plant Health Directive) is realistic. Taking national measures will continue to give growers the protection they seek, while retaining flexibility on how findings are handled."

An FPC representative added: "It is vital that all sectors of the industry follow FERA's advice to ensure that this pest is contained and eradicated and that we avoid the potential imposition of plant health passports for tomatoes."

- Visit www.hortweek.com to view FERA's fact sheet on Tuta absoluta.

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