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Beware of the dangers of karnal bunt and other plant diseases.

After bluetongue, what next? A study published last week says climate change, globalisation of trade and travel, and the evolution of new diseases will increase the risk of new problems arriving in the UK. The study, conducted by Imperial College London, and jointly funded by the UK and regional governments and the farming and horticultural industries, looks at responsibility and cost sharing options for dealing with the threats.

It says the UK faces a large number of potential pests and diseases and should focus on the most important threats.

No fewer than 150 quarantine pests and diseases are listed as banned by the European Union - where actions must be taken to ensure they are removed if found.

The importation of certain plants and plant products likely to harbour unwanted pests and diseases is also banned.

The report says pest and disease problems of particular importance in the UK include those that threaten crops, particularly potato ring rot and potato brown rot, and serious international pests and diseases of cereals, including western corn rootworm and karnal bunt.

There is also a complex selection of horticultural pests and diseases, including the tobacco or sweet potato whitefly, bemisia tabaci and other glasshouse insects, the pepino mosaic virus - which hits tomatoes - potato spindle tuber viroid and angular leaf spot on strawberries.

Ornamental plants and hardy perennials face the threat of a large number of pests and diseases, most notably phytophthora ramorum or sudden oak death and phytophthora kernoviae, which affects rhododendron.

A wide range of insects and fungi attack amenity trees, such as Asian longhorned beetle, and garden ornamentals, such as downy mildew of impatiens.

Jeff Rooker, UK Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health, said the new study provides evidence needed to draw up future policy.

"The need to deal effectively with threats to horticulture, agriculture and the wider environment from plant pests and diseases is an ongoing challenge," said Mr Rooker.

"This study recognises the good work and co-operation that already exists between Government and the industry but underlines the need for increased partnership working to address these threats."

NFU vice-president Paul Temple described the report as "hugely important" and a positive step forward.

"The prospects of UK growers being affected by plant health outbreaks is becoming more of a question of 'when, not if', so it's vitally important the industry and Government work together to tackle these issues," he said.

"We welcome the call for greater co-operation between Government and industry on this issue and look forward to developing relationships to allow genuine sharing in the delivery of future quarantine plant health solutions."

The study can be seen on the Defra website at www.defra.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 13, 2007
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