Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  Dr Ian Smith

EPPO – achievements and future challenges in plant protection

I.M. Smith, Director General

The European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization was created in 1951 by the common will of 15 European countries. After world war II, European agriculture was faced with great many difficulties, and in particular a significant food crop, potato, was threatened by the introduction of Colorado beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). These 15 countries felt that by creating an international organization, they would control this pest more efficiently. EPPO’s work then extended to preventing the introduction of other dangerous pests from other parts of the world, and limiting their spread within Europe if they were introduced. These activities which can broadly be labelled as ‘plant quarantine’ have been EPPO’s main priority in its 50 years of existence. Important cases considered include fireblight disease of fruit trees, American wilt of oak, Japanese beetle, Karnal bunt of wheat, thrips and leafminers on glasshouse crops. Later, EPPO activities rapidly extended to plant protection in general, including plant protection products. Today, 44 European and Mediterranean countries (including the 15 members of the European Union) are members of the Organization. Our partners are the National Plant Protection Organizations, i.e. the official services which are responsible for plant protection in each country. EPPO is financed by individual contributions paid by its member governments.

EPPO is a standard-setting organization

EPPO is essentially a technical and advisory body. Work is directed by two Working Parties, reflecting the two main fields of activity of the organization: plant quarantine and plant protection products. Details are worked out by 15 Panels of experts designated by countries. A Secretariat of 11 persons based in Paris is in charge of facilitating the work of the experts by preparing documents and organizing meetings. In discussions, the emphasis is essentially put on scientific principles. From this point of view, EPPO can be seen as a forum for free and scientific discussion, sometimes preparing political discussions which will take place in other fora. A family spirit has developed over the years, which facilitates common understanding and compromise on difficult subjects. The results of EPPO's work are recommendations officially approved by EPPO’s Council where all countries are represented. These recommendations are now considered at international level as “regional standards“. So far, hundreds of EPPO standards have been published on various subjects: efficacy evaluation of plant protection products, good plant protection practice, production of healthy planting material, lists of quarantine pests, pest risk analysis, diagnostic protocols etc. Exchange of information within the Organization is also an important task. Numerous books, brochures, journals and software are prepared by the EPPO Secretariat.

Future challenges

During the last 10 years, a striking acceleration in EPPO activities has taken place, which is the reflection of the increase of the tasks and duties attributed to the national plant protection services.
Globalization of trade
International trade patterns have expanded and diversified, thus increasing the risks of introducing new pests into new geographical areas. In addition, there is a strong political pressure for free trade and phytosanitary regulations which are set up by governments to protect their agriculture are seen as barriers to trade. These changes have forced countries and regional organizations like EPPO to recognize that an international body was lacking to express and defend phytosanitary issues at global level. In 1992, a Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention was created within FAO. A new Commission on Phytosanitary Measures represents phytosanitary interests at global level and is given the important task to prepare international standards.
Another key issue is the justification of phytosanitary measures which are required by governments and which act as barriers to free trade (prohibitions, restrictions on imports, treatments of agricultural commodities moving in trade etc.). The concept of risk analysis which is used in many other fields of activities, such as economy, industry, or environment, has been adapted to plant protection and called Pest Risk Analysis. EPPO and its member countries are studying in detail pests which may present a risk to our geographical region if introduced via trade. If the risk is found unacceptable, phytosanitary measures are then designed to avoid any introduction or dissemination of the pest concerned.

Environment protection

In public opinion, protection of the environment is a growing concern and this has generated new activities for plant protection services and EPPO. An example, is the optimal use of plant protection products which is developed in the EPPO standards on good plant protection practice. In addition, environment protection has led to the signature of international agreements (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity) with important obligations on governments. EPPO experts have just started to work on invasive alien species which are a threat to biodiversity and agricultural ecosystems. As a first step, they will have to identify plants or animal species which are likely to behave as invasive species if introduced and to design possible measures to control them.

Although EPPO is not a political organization, the important political changes which took place in Europe have to be taken into account. The appearance of new independent countries, the ongoing construction of the European Union and the future integration of new members have an impact on EPPO’s work. It is quite vital for EPPO to remain flexible both in its structures and fields of activities to answer adequately the changing needs of its member countries.
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