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New plant health risk register

30 January 2014


January 20th saw the launch of Defra’s Plant Health Risk Register, which is now publicly available.

The Plant Health Risk Register represents a major step in implementing the recommendations of the independent Task Force on Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity.    
It is a tool for government, industry and stakeholders to prioritise action against pests and diseases which threaten our crops, trees, gardens and countryside.
Focusing initially on regulated pests (those where actions have been recommended by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation and others where UK action has been considered following the production of a Pest Risk Analysis), 668 organisms have been rated so far for the likelihood and impact of them becoming established in the UK, or for spreading further within the UK. 
Four of the pest and disease priorities identified on the homepage of the new risk register have the potential to affect potato crops. 
Potatoes are vegetatively produced and grown in multiple geographical locations as opposed to true seed crops or crops grown in one season. This takes our crop to a level where detailed pest and disease prevention and management strategies are required; the final product being the result of multiple growing seasons in multiple locations very much like trees and ornamentals. It’s not that potatoes are inherently more risky but that their production creates exposure to potential plant health risks.
The prominence of plant health risks for potatoes in the new register is a reflection of the level of input industry has had into the creation of this tool and our high awareness of plant health risks to this important crop.  
“This knowledge has enabled industry to better manage known risks to ensure we maintain the quality of our crops and supply to markets – for consumers in GB and for export,” notes AHDB Potatoes’s head of seed and export, Rob Burns. “The Safe Haven scheme, which was introduced 12 years ago provides a ring-fence for the protection of high grade seed production in GB, is one such best practice example.”
The industry-led Safe Haven scheme provides protection for the GB potato crop in addition to the regulatory mitigations already in place to protect potatoes, such as specific Control Directives are in place to deal with disease such as ring rot and brown rot.  Seed potatoes are officially certified through SASA and Fera and are one of the few commodities where there is an outright prohibition on imports from outside the EU (except from Switzerland).  lmports of ware are also restricted to certain origins and regulation means ware potatoes must be free of specified organisms and traceable through a registration number.  There are a lot of protective measures already in place, which is why organisms like ring rot have not become established in GB, but we must remain vigilant.
The Risk Register is not intended to produce a simple list of the “top ten pests”, but to establish different priorities for regulation, research, contingency planning, publicity, surveys and detailed risk assessment, depending on the characteristics of the organism.  On a monthly basis the Plant Health Risk Group will update entries in the Risk Register in the light of new intelligence from around the world and developments in the UK.  AHDB Potatoes will continue to input to the Risk Register and its outputs, including consultation on new Pest Risk Assessments to ensure we identify emerging threats.
Industry has the opportunity to feed back on the new Risk Register as it continues to evolve. Once you have taken a look at the register ( add your comments to the website or email AHDB Potatoes at
If you want to learn more about the Risk Register take a look at Preserving UK Bio-security presentation at BP2013 by Defra’s Martin Ward.
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