BSPP Presidential Meeting 2002

Plant Pathology and Global Food Security



M. Megan Quinlan (Regulatory consultant, CABI Associate)

Many countries, including those most advanced in plant health regulatory systems, have suffered from the entry and spread of an increasing number of plant pathogens. Inspection and detection systems were developed in the context of available tools at the time and generally are aimed at insect pests. While the role of some insects as carriers of pathogens is better recognised today, latent diseases are not well controlled through traditional quarantine approaches. This has allowed the spread of not only agriculturally significant pathogens, but also plant pathogens that can devastate unmanaged ecosystems. Countries receiving aid due to natural disaster, military conflict or other stresses cannot be expected to apply even basic quarantine measures during the period of crisis.

Recognising that food aid in particular is normally needed quickly and for countries that probably have no Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) resources, an important question arises as to how there can be any risk management and what would it involve? Traditionally, most food aid is in the form of processed products or grain and generally comes from the same source countries. A "global" PRA could be done on particular commodities from normal sources to identify the main risks for regions where food aid is anticipated or routinely provided. In this way, food aid might always be preceded by "plant health aid". After the risks are identified, an appropriate package of risk management can be prepared as a contingency plan, ready to be used with the agreement of the recipient country.

The emphasis for risk management of plant pathogens will be on prevention of entry. The United States has recently conducted a review of the federal and state combined ability to prevent entry and spread of plant pathogens of economic concern. The findings indicate that the use of a combination of measures, which act independently but in an additive fashion to reduce risk, is more likely to prove effective against plant pathogens than single measure approaches. This is especially true when considering that there are various pathways of entry other than commercial trade. In the future, control of the entry, spread and establishment of plant pathogens may be improved by consistent application of the International Standards on Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) No. 14: The use of integrated measures in a systems approach for pest risk management, which was approved earlier this year by the member countries of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Yet, this systems approach requires more sophisticated input and greater management capacity than single measures.

The plant pathology community can assist in global trade and delivery of international aid by conducting framework Pest Risk Analyses (to be completed using individual country data and conditions) and providing case studies and tools for risk management of key plant pathogens that are presently getting by plant quarantine systems in most of the world.


Greg Johnson, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Canberra

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; And thereby hangs a tale.' William Shakespeare in As you Like it

Shakespeare was referring to old age, but his adage is pertinent to agriculture as well. Reducing losses, extending shelf-life and delaying product senescence will allow crop surpluses to be turned into more profit. Effective disease control can reduce losses and facilitate market access for the agri-produce from developing countries. It can enable smallholders to diversify away from food security staples, to enhance incomes and improve nutrition by boosting production, marketing and consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Postharvest disease control depends upon pre-harvest management to reduce infection, careful handling to minimize product damage, postharvest treatment to destroy inoculum or eradicate infections, and the implementation of storage, handling and transport systems that maintain or extend shelf-life. While most postharvest pathogens are cosmopolitan and not perceived as quarantine risks, produce can also carry inoculum of organisms perceived as quarantine threats (such as Erwinia amylovora, Ralstonia solanacearum, Mycosphaerella fijiensis). As a consequence, particular markets can dictate the careful application of additional treatments, defined under quarantine regulations, as a prerequisite for export certification.

Having implemented effective systems to control pathogens, maintain quality and satisfy quarantine, the exporter can also encounter additional regulations concerning maximum residue limits for pesticides, hormones and mycotoxins. Early market success can be followed by greater scrutiny at market entry for regulatory compliance, followed by market collapse as production exceeds demand. There is a narrow gap between fair requirements concerning genuine market risks and quasi trade barriers.

Throughout all phases of industry development, scientific rigor, accurate diagnosis (of pathogens, contaminants etc) and good record keeping are critical. And, clear communication between researchers, farmers, marketing, trade and regulatory personnel is vital.

As with natural selection only the fittest survive. But, despite the risks, high losses and the high proportion of costs incurred post-farm gate, attention to postharvest research and development is abysmally low!! More support is needed (urgently) if developing countries and market-remote farmers are to be fairly and profitably linked to markets.

What can we do?

We need more basic research on plant defense systems and control of product quality, including approaches involving the strategic use of molecular biology.

We need efficient and cost effective postharvest systems.

We need effective strategies to minimize contaminant risks and

We need proactive and responsive communication strategies to enable effective implementation of both the technologies already on the shelf, and those that will flow from future research.


Dr. Alan Legge, Technical Director, Mack Multiples Division

The best achievable Food Safety and Quality Assurance requires that we have the shortest possible chain between the field and the table. This necessitates an integrated and "Assured" supply chain, with effective coordination, collaboration and communication within all the elements between farmer and consumer.

The Food Safety Act (1990) accelerated the development of advanced food safety and quality systems, already adopted by those companies specialising in supplying U.K. multiples. The multiples, nevertheless, have in recent years been taking an increasingly prescriptive approach to these issues such as requiring third-party audits of source farms across the world and B.R.C. packhouse standard certification of any packhouse which packs "own-label" produce.

Quality assurance, sufficient to give the minimum possible risk of M.R.L. exceedence, contamination (biological/physical), full traceability and "Due Diligence", is a significant part of a suppliers staffing costs perhaps as high as 15-18% in the major players. Analysis produced by Plimsoll Publishing show that 60% of the 250 major produce suppliers had cost increases of 12% in 2001, yet only 40% of that group managed to increase profits, and 45% made less profit than in previous years. Some 34 of these companies were judged to be in the "High Financial Risk" category.

Supply companies are walking a tightrope of ensuring sufficient compliance to meet customer and regulatory requirements (- and "name and shame" risk) and at the same time making sufficient profit to invest for the future.