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Fruit production plays an important role for the European Union (EU) economy.
Fruits are produced, imported and exported in all EU countries. Pests and diseases, including insects, bacterial and fungal pathogens, are a major and fundamental constraint on fruit production by causing significant losses at all stages of fruit production, including post-harvest storage.
Numerous approaches have been used to prevent and control disease, yet synthetic chemicals remain one of the most effective methods to control fruit pests and diseases. However, there are growing concerns about chemical residues on fruits and their side effects on humans and environments.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a more environmentally friendly approach that relies on a combination of various practices including chemical, physical and biological control. Nowadays IPM has become increasingly important in the fruit industry, and provided the focus for this meeting.
The meeting took place in Izmir, the third largest city of Turkey. The objectives of this meeting were to promote the importance of IPM for fruit production within the industry and to the public and to exchange ideas on fruit research among scientists who are working in the fruit industry. There were around 120 delegates who came from academia, governments and commercial companies. I went to the meeting with three colleagues who are working in Plant Pathology and Entomology from East Malling Reasearch Station. Although the majority of participants were entomologists and agronomists working in pre- and post-harvest studies, many keynote lectures and sessions were related to plant disease and disease management. I was awarded a travel fund from the British Society for Plant Pathology to join this meeting and was given an opportunity to present the results from my PhD studies at the University of Kent.
During the meeting and related discussions, many issues related to plant pathology were raised. My own interests centred on the use of biological control agents (BCAs) of fruit disease. According to EU legislation, pesticides and fungicides may be regarded as harmful and toxic substances to humans. Until now BCAs have been registered using a similar process to that used for synthetic chemicals, even though BCAs are not likely to be toxic or pathogenic to humans if they have been selected carefully. Nevertheless, this means that registration of BCAs may take many years requiring a huge investment and a long processing time. Many participants raised their concern and felt that BCA registration should be separated from chemical registration. A simpler procedure would make the registration process easier and quicker.
If the BCA registration could be rewritten, this would help to speed up the deployment of BCAs and reduce the cost of BCA registration. However this topic is still being discussed and reviewed among academics, authorities and product regulators. Despite this block to development of BCAs for fruit production, there were several papers which discussed the use of novel agents and described effective control of disease.
Studies on effects of pesticides mainly focus on toxicity of chemical residues on fruits and environments. The risk assessment of workers exposed to conventional pesticides is less well understood. One particular large-scale study was described which investigated the health and safety of the workers in contact with chemicals. Risks to three groups of workers, consisting of operators, fruit pickers and residents, were reported. These workers have access to different levels of chemicals as well as different exposure routes i. e. oral, inhalation and dermal exposures.
The introductory results were presented in this meeting, and it is anticipated that upcoming results would provide invaluable information for the refinement of health and safety guidelines for crop management.
During the conference, we also visited two IPM orchards in Turkey, including both mandarin orange and fig orchards.
Turkish government officials and fruit growers gave us an overview and background of the fruit industry in Turkey. One of the mandarin orange growers confirmed that IPM was essential to improve crop production as well as adding value to the mandarin oranges. By using an IPM system certified and recognised by international standards, the prices of mandarin oranges can be increased by up to 30% -40% when oranges were exported to EU markets. The major destinations of fruits produced in Turkey are Russia and many European countries including Germany, Poland, Hungary, France and England. We also heard that using IPM in fig orchards can reduce plant diseases and increase yields per hectare. In order to achieve the goal and meet international standards, IPM is very important for Turkish fruit growers.
In conclusion, problems relating to the registration of BCAs were identified and potential solutions were discussed. The meeting also showed the importance of knowledge transfer from laboratories to commercial users, as well as showcasing good examples of progress in IPM systems for fruit. The meeting was well organised by providing a number of opportunities for participants to discuss and share ideas. I also had a chance to discuss product registration with other researchers working in BCAs from many countries. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Society for Plant Pathology for providing the travel fund.
Nattawut Rungjindamai University of Kent and East Malling Research