Gove threatens to ban EU imports of high-risk species to stop Xylella entering UK

Defra secretary of state Michael Gove has written to the EU calling for greater protections against the plant disease Xylella and is proposing stopping imports of high risk species.

Gove has called on the European Commission to strengthen protections against the plant disease Xylella fastidiosa.

He spoke with the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytensis Andriukaitis earlier this week raising concerns about EU protections against the disease.

Gove has now written to the Commissioner outlining that should further action - including stronger checks on high-risk plants - not materialise, the UK will consider our own national measures. Actions Defra is exploring include a suspension of imports of high-risk species. Defra lists olives, polygala, rosemary, lavender, nerium oleander and prunus as high risk.

He wrote that findings in southern Europe "raises serious questions about the robustness of the EU’s present arrangements and the wisdom of allowing high risk species to move acrossborders unchecked.

"In light of what is at stake, I have asked my officials to explore national measures to mitigate the imminent danger of Xylella fastidiosa being introduced into the UK, which could be introduced in the event that the appropriate level of protection is not forthcoming through the EU review. This may include enhanced import requirements for plants from other EU countries or a suspension of imports of high-risk species."

Defra said: "It is currently simpler for the UK to impose restrictions on the import of plants from outside the EU than on plants from within the EU. Leaving the EU will provide an opportunity to examine how we can introduce stricter biosecurity measures on imports from Europe in cases like this where there is a disease risk."

An EU Emergency Decision on Xylella is anticipated later in September.

Chief plant health officer Nicola Spence has also written to the UK horticultural sector urging plant traders and sellers to make careful decisions when sourcing plants to keep the country free from Xylella.

She said: "Many plant traders are already on the front foot against Xylella. Nurseries and garden centres have already committed not to bring Xylella host plants into the UK from countries or regions of the EU where the disease is present and management practices are being employed around careful sourcing, traceability and good hygiene measures, to reduce the risk of introducing the disease.

"To keep our country protected against Xylella it is vital that all plant importers and traders follow this lead. I urge you to make careful decisions on sourcing plants, particularly those from countries where Xylella is present, and review on-site measures to reduce the risk of disease introduction and spread."

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