Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 is a new European Plant Health Regulation, which entered into force on 13th December 2016, and is a major overhaul of the EU’s Plant Health legislation that has been in place since 1977. It will repeal and replace seven Council Directives on harmful organisms and will become fully applicable on 13 December 2019. The new Regulation is here.
It focuses particularly on the prevention of entry or spread of plant pests within the EU territory, and sets out detailed rules for the early detection and eradication of Union quarantine pests if found present in the EU territory. These rules establish obligations for the notification of outbreaks by professional operators, surveys and multiannual survey programmes, demarcation of areas for the purpose of eradication, as well as enhanced requirements for the priority pests as described above.
Under the new Regulation, all Member States will have to immediately proceed with the eradication of a Union quarantine pest if found present in an area where it was not known to be present. This means that they will no longer be allowed to proceed unilaterally with containment, namely to skip the eradication step and simply take measures to restrict the presence of the pests in a particular area.
Plant pests currently fall under different legal acts depending on their quarantine status or whether they affect the quality of plant reproductive material. The new Regulation will list all pests together, under three main categories:
Union quarantine pests: Not present at all in the EU territory or, if present, just locally and under official control (examples include Citrus black spot, which is not present in the EU, and Xylella which is present in a few specific locations only). Strict measures must be taken to prevent their entry or further spread within the EU due to their increased risk for plant health. These pests have to be eradicated immediately if detected.
Protected zone quarantine pests: Present in most parts of the Union, but still known to be absent in certain demarcated areas called ‘protected zones’ (for example grape phylloxera, which is present in the territory of the EU but not in Cyprus which is designated as protected zone for this pest). These pests are thus not allowed to enter and spread within these protected zones. Measures are taken (such as prohibition or restriction of movement of commodities, surveys, etc.) to avoid the introduction of these pests into the protected zones or to ensure their eradication if found present in these zones.
Regulated non-quarantine pests: Widely present in the EU territory but, since they have an impact on the quality of the plants, plant reproductive material on the market should be guaranteed free or almost free from the pest (for example, the fungus Verticillium albo-atrum is known to be harmful to the apple production in the EU, therefore certified apple trees are not allowed to enter the EU market if more than 2% of the examined quantity is contaminated with the fungus). This way the starting quality and economic value of many agricultural crops as well as forestry and fruit plants can be ensured.
The new Regulation introduces the concept of “priority pests“. These are the Union quarantine pests with the most severe potential impacts on the economy, environment and/or society of the EU. They will be subject to enhanced measures concerning surveys, action plans for their eradication, contingency plans and simulation exercises.
The list of these priority pests will be adopted through a delegated act, as close as possible to the date of application of this Regulation (end of 2019). It will be based on the criteria fixed by the Regulation and the assessments of the severity of the impacts of those pests.
The import of most plants and plant products from non-EU countries will in principle be allowed, subject to certain conditions. Some will be prohibited or subject to very strict requirements if a risk assessment indicates that this is necessary due to the pests they might host. The new Regulation sets out more precise rules about the risk assessment and risk management supporting such measures.
Under the new Regulation, the Commission is further required to adopt within two years a list of so-called high risk plants or plant products. The import of these commodities will be prohibited as long as no detailed risk assessment has been carried out to determine if such imports should be acceptable and, if yes, under which conditions.
All living plant material (namely entire plants, fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, seeds, etc.) will only be imported into the EU if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate confirming their compliance with the EU legislation. The Commission will adopt within two years a list of plant materials to be exempted from that certification if they are deemed safe for the EU territory.
Finally, for specific cases where there is little experience with trade of certain plants or plant products and where related pest risks are still unknown, the new Regulation sets out the possibility to introduce temporarily phytosanitary import restrictions or even a prohibition until more scientific information becomes available.
Imports by Passengers
In principle, passengers will no longer be allowed to introduce into the EU plants/plant products from non-EU countries if they are not accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. However, harmonised exemptions to this general rule might be granted through a Commission implementing act, setting out the maximum quantity of plant material that might be allowed to be introduced by the passengers into the EU without phytosanitary certificate.
Plant passports are the documents that accompany plants and certain plant products while moving within the Union and certify their phytosanitary health status. Under the new Regulation, all plant passports will be issued using a common format, thus facilitating their visibility and making them more easily recognisable throughout the EU.
Plant passports will now be required for the movement of all plants for planting, (under the current legislation, plant passports are required only for certain plants for planting). However, in order to avoid disproportionate administrative burdens, no plant passports will be required when the plants are transferred to non-professional consumers (e.g. in places like flower shops or other retail shops).
Professional operators will have to notify any quarantine pest they find in the areas of their control. For the purpose of more efficient controls, the professional operators will have to be registered by the competent authorities. The professional operators will also have to ensure the traceability of the regulated plants/plant products they receive from and submit to other professional operators.
Professional operators will be allowed to issue plant passports, under the supervision of the competent authorities. To that purpose they will have to be authorised specifically by the authorities, subject to specific conditions.
Member States’ competent authorities will play a key role in the implementation of these rules. They will be responsible for activities such as surveys, eradication of outbreaks, contingency plans, simulation exercises, notification of pest occurrences, controls of imports, registration of professional operators, authorisation of professional operators to issue plant passports and other attestations.
In this respect, the new Regulation will be complemented, in the coming months, by the Regulation on Official Controls which will set out the obligations of Member States with regards to official controls and other official activities.
Why will the Regulation be applicable only in three years’ time?
To replace the existing legislation, it was decided that an EU Regulation was the right instrument, since it is directly and universally applicable throughout the EU. During the next three years, a string of delegated and implementing acts needs to be adopted. This period will also be used by competent authorities and professional operators to adjust to the new common rules.