The body charged with keeping plant pests and diseases at bay, and trade in plants safe, has adopted new international measures to prevent pests from spreading across borders.

The standards, including protocols to block highly invasive pests such as Xylella fastidiosa and the oriental fruit fly, were approved during the annual meeting this week of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM).

CPM is the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the international body charged with setting and implementing phytosanitary standards recognised by governments world-wide and the World Trade Organisation’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures agreement to facilitate safe trade and protect plant health.

“With increased trade and travel, the risks of plant pests spreading into new areas across borders is higher than ever before. Every day, we witness a shocking number of threats to the well-being of our plants and, by extension, to our health, environment and economy,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO assistant director-general for agriculture and consumer protection department.

FAO estimates between 20% to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests every year. Plant diseases cost the global economy around US$220 billion, and invasive insects cost it around US$70 billion.

“Many farmers and governments grapple with warding off highly destructive pests and diseases that are – on top of everything else – also new to them. The IPPC provides them with the tools and knowledge to keep their plants healthy and prevent pests from jumping borders,” added Tijani.

New IPPC standards

In response to growing concerns over the harmful effects of fumigants to human health and to the environment there is a new standard to provide guidance on improved fumigation methods.

The standard sets requirements for temperature, duration, fumigant quantity for effective fumigation, and puts forward solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of fumigation – for example, by using recapture technology to reduce gas emissions.

Diagnostic protocols that describe procedures and methods for the official diagnosis of six pests, including Xylella fastidiosa and the oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) have been developed

Xylella fastidiosa is a deadly bacterium that attacks economically important crops such as olive, citrus or plum trees and grapevines. Since 2015, it has been spread rapidly from the Americas to Europe and Asia.

Once Xylella fastidiosa infiltrates a plant, it is there to stay. It starves the plant of water until the plant dies or becomes too weak to bear fruit. Xylella fastidiosa costs US$104 million per year in wine losses in California alone. In Italy, the bacteria has led to the decline of 180 000ha of olive groves – many of them with centuries-old trees. It threatens the economy of Italy and of the other Mediterranean countries.

The oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) has affected trees such as avocado, banana, guava and mango in at least 65 countries. In Africa, import trade bans due to oriental fruit fly infestations cause annual losses of around US$2 billion.

New trade rules and technologies to detect pests  

Discussions at the week-long CPM meeting from 1 April to 5 April, with more than 400 participants, including representatives of national and regional plant protection organizations, international organisations and FAO’s international offices, also focus on the programme of the international year of plant health – proclaimed by the UN General Assembly for 2020.

“Despite the increasing impact of plant pests, resources to address the problem are scarce. The CPM meeting will discuss how the international year of plant health could trigger greater global collaboration, engagement and awareness to support plant health policies at all levels, which will significantly contribute to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development,” said Jingyuan Xia, IPPC’s secretary.

Ground rules are set up in commodity and pathway standards so that countries can commence trade  with the aim of introducing new opportunities for developing countries.

Recommendations are made on high-throughput sequencing (HTS) technologies, which are in the early stages of development, to detect regulated pests or previously unknown pests, such as new viruses that affect cassava plants. Although HTS technologies open up possibilities for screening plants and plant products faster and more reliably than traditional diagnostic methods, they also come with challenges, which are identified and addressed in the recommendations.

As of today, the CPM has adopted more than 100 international standards for phytosanitary measures (ISPMs), covering all areas of plant quarantine. – Press Release