FERA fee warning over import plans

Full-cost recovery for statutory plant health services will be unfair to growers, industry figures say.

Raising fees to fund a stronger import control regime can only be justified if the system is efficient and competitively priced, industry figures have warned.

The Food & Environment Research Agency has opened a consultation into proposals to move to full-cost recovery for statutory plant health services, which would mean significant fee increases.

The Government is proposing tighter import controls to prevent pests and diseases from entering the country. Defra's Action Plan for tree health and plant biosecurity proposes releasing more funding for inspections at entry points and growing sites.

NFU horticulture adviser Chris Hartfield said: "I don't think the industry is willing to pass over to full-cost recovery if the service is not competitively priced.

"We haven't got the transparency as to how the costs break down. We understand the case being made, but if you're going to take on a fuller burden of the costs, you want to have a say in how schemes are set up."

Stockbridge Technology Centre chief executive Graham Ward added that proposed changes to the regime could be unfair to growers. "If you find diseases, the nursery at which they are found is immediately closed.

"In the Action Plan they say they are going to put the charge up to have more inspections at growing sites. What they are saying is that if they find diseases, they will punish individual nurseries.

"They should be discussing some way of mitigating the public interest in reducing the risks of plant pests and diseases coming in against punishing small businesses. They have been in discussion for 10 years with the NFU and others and they haven't solved the problem of this inequity."

Grower's view

"The current system is not fit for purpose and unfairly penalises growers. If they want to raise the costs they should have a policy that works. I grow rhododendrons, and because they are phytophthora carriers I have to be inspected. Why should I be the sole person restricted when I'm an innocent party? My business wasn't importing anything."

John Middleton, wholesale nurseryman

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