Defra minister Lord de Mauley has told 100 industry delegates at the HTA UK Plant Biosecurity Conference in York that he wants to see more plants sourced in the UK, imports sourced more responsibly and for "less scrupulous parts of the industry to clean up their act".
Ash dieback has been the catalyst for the meeting, which saw growers question senior Defra officers and scientists about their reaction to pest and disease issues.
De Mauley added: "Growers and traders are on the frontline in dealing with the challenge." He said healthy plants and public confidence were essential for business.
He said the risk register and contingency planning against threats were going ahead, as part of last week's Plant Health Task Force Gilligan report (HW 24 May). De Mauley added that he wants industry ideas on further Task Force recommendations.
However, no-one from Government was able to specify what new money was available to raise plant health up the agenda.
Defra is hosting a meeting in late June or the beginning of July on the interim risk register and we "welcome participation from the industry", said Defra chief plant health health officer Martin Ward.
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said at the conference plant health affected the whole industry. He said Defra had allowed plant health issues to "drop down the priority list for many years" but now there was an opportunity to influence Government policy because the Plant Health Task Force Gilligan report had made proposals for change and Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson had said plant health is now as a key priority as animal health within the department (HW 24 May).
With Defra in listening mode, grower delegates including Tim Edwards, Steve McCurdy, Geoff Caesar, Jamie Dewhirst and Steve Ashworth were among those that suggested ideas to solve the UK's plant health problems. These included strengthening or changing plant passporting, encouraging more UK growing and pushing Defra to involve the industry in its risk register and complete Gilligan's other proposals such as appointing a chief plant health officer to look after the at risk register and improve communications about upcoming threats.
See full report in HW 7 June and http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/showNews.cfm?id=637