Potato industry warned of foreign beetle risk

The UK potato industry could be dealt a devastating blow if a species of beetle is allowed to enter the country, the NFU has claimed.

At a meeting held by the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) earlier this year, the industry recognised that the Epitrix potato flea beetle posed a significant threat to UK potato production and agreed on a series of short-term measures - one of which was to notify FERA of products bought from the affected countries.

However, the NFU has said this does not go far enough and that the notification system should be set on a statutory basis as soon as possible.

NFU potato forum chairman Allan Stevenson said: "We hope that the entire industry will join forces to call for statutory measures to ensure swift action against this threat.

"It is vital that we take the lead in Europe on this issue to protect our growers from any possible harm."

Meanwhile, growers, processors and packers are being urged by the potato industry to notify FERA if they buy products from Spain and Portugal. This is because both these countries are affected by the beetle, which is at risk of spreading to the UK.

If this happens, experts predict it could wipe £40m from the potato market in this country. They have said that if it does reach the UK, it would be impossible to eradicate and costly to control.

The European & Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation has published a pest risk assessment on Epitrix sooner than expected, which may provoke EU-wide measures to actively manage the pest.

The NFU has stressed, however, that growers should continue with the FERA notification scheme. Notifications must include an expected delivery date, grower name and address, grower registration number, contact number, load number and whether potatoes have been washed or brushed.

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