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Plant health : EU steps up assistance to help fight dangerous organisms

The European Union earmarked yesterday 19 million euros to co-finance programmes in seven Member States aiming to combat organisms harmful to plants and to prevent them from spreading further in the Union and thus from having sever consequences on the internal market. During a meeting of the Standing Committee on Plant Health (SCPH), the Member States endorsed two Commission proposals providing the co-financing (€15 and €4 million respectively) of actions already undertaken in the past or planned to be executed next year.

"The importance of plant health in our daily lives is often underestimated. Keeping in mind the potential catastrophic consequences for our citizens – like in Ireland in the 19th century, where the potato, then the basic food of the population, was almost totally destroyed by the invasion of the late blight fungus from Central America - it is crucial to tackle these problems at the earliest stage" Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli noted. "Taking into account the current budgetary constraints, assistance will be focused where it is most needed " he added.

Fund distribution

The endorsed sum represents the largest yearly budget contribution by the Union for such purposes since the entry into force of the regime of plant health co-financing (1997). The funds will be distributed to Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, as these are the Member States that requested such Union support.

Pinewood nematode

Most of the funds (€6 million) will be devoted to the control of the 2011 outbreaks in Portugal of pinewood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus), which is a microscopic worm attacking coniferous trees. European coniferous species are highly susceptible and the pest could devastate the European pine forests. The financing of the actions will assist Portugal to contain pinewood nematode within the existing demarcated zone. This, in turn, will help to safeguard the territory of the other Member States and protect Union trade interests in relation to third countries.

An additional €4 million will further assist Portugal to face the huge expenditure incurred in 2006-2007 for the creation of a "clear cut belt," i.e. a zone free of trees that were infected by the pinewood nematode. The zone was established to prevent the pest from spreading further.

Financing will also assist Spain in the actions taken against two single isolated outbreaks of pine wood nematode, in Extramadura and Galicia respectively, that were successfully eradicated.

Other pests

A further €1.1 million will be made available to Spain to control the island apple snail (Pomacea insularum),one of the largest freshwater snails, which attacks rice plots and can also have devastating effects on natural wetlands. The size of the potentially endangered rice area in the EU is 420.000 hectares. Up to now, there is only one known outbreak in the EU, in the Ebro Delta (Catalonia).

Money will also be allocated to control two types of beetles in Germany, Italy and/or the Netherlands – the Asian longhorn beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) and the Chinese longhorn beetle (Anoplophora chinensis). Both insects attack a wide range of woody plant species and are mainly present in Asia. Moreover, funds will be made available to control the red palm weevil (Rynchophorus ferrugineus) in Cyprus and Malta, which attacks palm trees.

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Contacts :

Frédéric Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)

Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)

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