Food & Environment Research Agency seeks views on pest risk analysis

The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) is asking for growers' views on a pest risk analysis (PRA) on the tomato leaf minor (Tuta absoluta) - a pest that hails from South America and has already wiped out entire crops in Spain.

The PRA has been drawn up by the Plant Protection Service of the Netherlands - with help from experts in Spain and the UK - to help develop a policy for dealing with the pest.

There are a few differences in how infestations are spread and dealt with in these countries, so FERA is asking for the industry's views on the PRA to help iron out the details of the UK policy.

FERA plant health policy representative Richard McIntosh said: "We will take all comments made into account in developing the UK position. This includes tomato plant propagators, tomato producers and packagers, wholesalers and retailers, as well as consumers."

The Rural Payments Agency said that so far there have been at least four outbreaks of the pest at tomato production companies in the UK. It has also been intercepted here 58 times at 18 packing stations.

Its report stated: "The industry has acted extremely responsibly and co-operatively in these situations and, to date, further spread has been relatively limited."

As part of the consultation, EU policy-makers are considering whether outbreaks should be controlled officially - through the introduction of protected zones - or by the industry itself, meaning that all those in the supply chain would be contractually obliged to prevent its spread and movement.

To view and comment on the analysis, see Comments must be submitted by 18 January.



Integrated pest management consultant Dr Rob Jacobson warned growers at the British Tomato Growers' Association conference last month that it is difficult to treat Tuta absoluta with pesticides because it is exposed on leaves for just 24 hours before it penetrates different parts of the plant.

Tuta absoluta can lay as many as 260 eggs on a plant's surface and caterpillars hatch from the eggs. After two weeks of feeding each one turns into a moth-like chrysalis that can drop to the floor or into packing materials, such as crates. This is how it is believed to have spread across Europe and into the UK.

Jacobson said: "We are talking about low levels at the moment, but if levels increase to a full-blown outbreak losses to growers from Tuta absoluta could be more than £300,000/ha per season."

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