Minister set to announce Plant Health Task Force report

Defra secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Owen Paterson is set to announce a stricter plant health policy at 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show on 20 May.

Paterson will speak at the show to reveal the Government's long-awaited response to the Chalara ash dieback outbreak last year. The Plant Health Task Force report is likely to be published.

The report is likely to focus on tree health, and may see a plant health officer being appointed to fulfil a similar role to the chief veterinary officer at Defra, with access to ministers.

The report may also include details of restrictions on passengers bringing in plants in their baggage into the EU.

Paterson said he is attracted by the stringent Australian and New Zealand plant health regime after he was forced to take his boots off for them to be cleaned on a recent visit Down Under.

Speaking at a Defra reception recently, he said: "The regime in Australia and New Zealand has a different attitude. There are lessons to be learnt in protecting the UK from plant disease."

He said he was made to take his boots off for them to be disinfected by customs officers in case they had plant pests or diseases stuck to them. He said the boots were dirty because he had been to Aintree racecourse for the Grand National.

He added that a priority was encouraging the growing of more British food, saying that 22 per cent more could be produced here but is imported.

Paterson said growing more food and improving the environment "are not mutually exclusive".

Last month, Paterson was on a fact-finding mission, looking at animal and plant transmitted diseases in Australia and New Zealand.

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