Belgium bans Chinese imports of plants that host citrus longhorn beetle

The Belgian government has banned imports of citrus longhorn beetle (Anoplophora chinensis) host plants from China after the European standing committee on plant health failed to reach a decision at last week's phytosanitary meeting.

Citrust longhorn beetle is indigenous to China. Image: Fera
Citrust longhorn beetle is indigenous to China. Image: Fera

The move will force the European Commission into further talks on current rules, with a potential pan European ban on Chinese imports at the heart of the negotiations.

The Belgian plant health authority said: "The direct importation of 17 susceptible genera of trees and shrubs into Belgium from China is banned outright. All batches of these same plants originating from the Boskoop region must have phytosanitary passports and all batches of plants from this zone imported into Belgium since October 2008 will be subject to inspection, with those showing evidence of infestation being seized and destroyed."

The Dutch authorities are expected to make a statement after the issue has been raised in cabinet by agriculture, natural resources and food quality minister Gerda Verburg at a meeting this week.

Netherlands Plant Protection Service delegation leader Bram de Hoop said: "We will probably follow suit after a final discussion. The member states have the right to take unilateral action and if that happens, the commission should work towards harmonisation across Europe. It is a difficult decision for the commission because it may be confronted by counter measures from the Chinese and it may affect talks between the EU and China."

The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) said it had no plans to act unilaterally but will continue with its destructive sampling policy. Plant health policy team member Justin Dixon said there was no need for the UK to ban Chinese imports because all trade comes through Holland.

He added: "We are strongly suporting the Dutch line of an import ban but we have not made any decision as to where we will go in future."

The commission must now debate the rules currently laid out in decision 2008/840/EC with action likely to follow the April or May standing committee meetings.

FERA plant health inspection team member Richard McIntosh said: "The key question is whether the decision remains sufficient or whether additional measures are needed."

Another focus of the discussion will be how findings are dealt with once the beetle is identified. De Hoop added: "The current legislation makes people afraid to look for the organism, which means there is a chance of a build up in infestations as we have seen in Italy.

"Clearly the outbreak in Boskoop cannot be compared with the situation in China, where the pest is indigenous and often present in high numbers around nurseries. EU legislation should be amended to allow for a differentiation between cases where there is a first incursion and where the pest is established in higher numbers. The commission's decisions, such as 2008/840/EC, can be amended likewise at relatively short notice."

The European Nursery Association has called an emergency meeting to discuss its position. Destructive sampling is ongoing in the UK and FERA has now sampled around 250 plants at 12 sites.

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