To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of the proportionality of the plant health regulatory regime for the import of seeds, plants and trees; and whether he has plans to revise that regulatory regime.
High plant health and biosecurity standards keep harmful pests and diseases, like Xylella fastidiosa, out of the UK, benefiting both the horticultural trade and the environment in the long term. The UK has some of the highest plant health and biosecurity standards in the world, and we have been clear we will not compromise on these standards. They are integral to supporting and protecting the horticultural industry overall as well as sustaining our food supply and natural environment.
The UK Plant Health Risk Group is continuously reviewing risks to plant biosecurity and identifying actions needed to mitigate the most significant threats. These include keeping our regulatory regime up to date, carrying out focused surveillance and inspections, contingency planning, research, and awareness raising as well as identifying areas where intervention would not be helpful or justified.
Since plant health controls on high-priority plants and plant products imported from the EU to GB were introduced on 1 January 2021, 94 interceptions of harmful organisms have been made, which all had the potential to lead to a damaging outbreak in GB.
In addition, more than 300 other instances of non-compliance have been identified.
These cases demonstrate the importance of effective import controls to safeguard commercial plant production; protect food supply and avoid the serious impacts on our natural environment which pest/disease outbreaks can lead to.
We have recently consulted on a permanent system of import checks and frequencies which will deal with imports from EU Member States and other third countries consistently.
This system is based on technical assessments of risk and retains the default position of 100% inspections for imported plants and trees. However, it also considers cases where a lower percentage of checks can be adopted for certain categories of plants where there is an identifiable lower risk (examples could be annual plants, because they are short lived, or house plants, because they are kept indoors).
The consultation closed in early 2022 and we expect to update stakeholders on the outcome of this consultation in March.