Article 65 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 4

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post the final one in this series we look at the points of view of others whom have various opinions on how to tackle the ever increasing problem of pests and disease; a major threat to our very existence. But whatever course of action deemed necessary taken either by individuals, communities and/or sovereign nations, there will always be stiff opposition and the threat of sanctions of one description or another due to bureaucracy and petty mindedness.

Introduction – thus far we have highlighted the many factors responsible for the present situation that we as humans now face all of which are of our own making. The financial cost of it all to date has been phenomenal and will continue to ensue rising exponentially where sustainability, (meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs) will not be possible; bringing us to the point of no return. We now view some of the directives of nations whom are attempting to arrest the situation from their own perspective.

United Nations FAO -at a conference in Rome 3rd April 2019 Bukar Tijani assistant director general for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Consumer Protection Department stated that. “With increased trade and travel, the risks of plant pests spreading into new areas across borders is now higher than ever before. Each day we witness a shocking number of threats to the well-being of our plants and by extension to our health, environment and economy.”

FAO estimates that annually between 20 to 40 percent of global crop production is lost to pests. Each year plant diseases cost the global economy around $220 billion and invasive insects around $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 International Plant Protection Convention IPPC provides them with the tools and knowledge to keep their plants healthy and prevent pests from jumping borders.” added Tijani.

New IPPC standards adopted – 1. fumigation methods, this is in response to growing concerns over fumigants that can be harmful to human health and the environment. The standard sets requirements for temperature, duration, fumigants and quantity to make fumigation effective and puts forward solutions to lessen fumigations environmental impact by using recapture technology to reduce gas emissions. 2. Diagnostics protocols that describe procedures and methods for the official diagnosis of six pests, including the oriental fruit fly Bactrocera dorsalis and Xylella fastidiosa ensuring a correct diagnosis is essential to catalyze rapid actions to manage the pests.

B. 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 $2 billion. Xylella fastidiosa is a deadly bacteria that attacks economically important crops such as olive, citrus, plum trees and grapevines. Since 2015, it’s been rapidly spreading from the Americas to Europe and Asia. Once the disease infiltrates a plant, it is there to stay, it starves the plant of water until the plant dies or becomes too weak to grow fruit. X. fastidiosa costs $104 million per year in wine losses in California and in Italy the bacteria has led to the decline of 180,000 hectares of olive groves destroying many centuries-old trees; a loss of €390 million over three years. X. fastidiosa constitutes a threat not only to Italy but to all the Mediterranean region’s economy.

X. fastidiosa is not known to be in the UK however, there have been outbreaks of the disease in mainland Europe in France, Italy and Spain. Portugal confirmed its first case in 2019 on lavender hence, the UK Government is concerned about how to prevent the disease being accidentally brought into the country on imported plants. In 2020 Lord Framlingham a Conservative peer asked the Government what the UK’s regulations are regarding X. fastidiosa.

UK regulations – were to introduce measures to strengthen the protection of plants from certain pests and diseases, including Xylella. They were made under article 52 of the EU Plant Health Regulation allowing the UK to take additional temporary national measures if they inform the European Commission and put forward a technical case to request EU measures against a specific pest, but those measures have not or will not be introduced in time to mitigate the risk concerned.

Moreover, the UK Government has argued that current EU emergency measures on Xylella do not address risks highlighted in the UK’s pest risk analysis on the disease. In particular, it is not clear if or when the EU emergency measures will be reviewed to address these risks and ensure a greater degree of assurance of disease freedom, in relation to plants of those species being moved in the EU and introduced from third countries. As such, there remains an unacceptable level of pest risk and this instrument introduces national measures under article 52, in the absence of EU requirements.

The European Commission’s response – in a decision on 4 June 2020, the European Commission said that it informed the UK the new national measures “that go beyond the existing requirements, are not supported by most recent scientific justification and are disproportionate.” It stated that the UK “should amend the UK Official Controls Regulations of 2019, by removing the amendments concerning Xylella fastidiosa and Ceratocystis platani which were made to those regulations by the UK Official Controls Regulations of 2020.”

On 19 June 2020, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated that the UK disagreed with the European Commission’s conclusions and that it was disappointed that “the opportunity has not been taken to extend the UK measures across the EU, providing enhanced protections for the EU’s member states.” Defra argued “that the biosecurity threat regarding the pests had not changed and the rationale for introducing stronger requirements remained.”

The department said it continued to encourage stakeholders and industry to “employ risk management practices which maintain the robust protection and assurance that the Defra regulations provide.” Defra also stated that The Animal and Plant Health Agency and the devolved administrations will continue to carry out intensive inspections of imported plants, taking account of risk factors such as origin, presence of insect vectors and suspect symptoms. “We will keep the need for any further actions under review in light of the ongoing risk situation, including developments in the EU and the results of our own surveillance.”

The Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) is also in agreement, plant health is increasingly under threat. Climate change and human activities have altered ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new niches where pests and diseases can thrive. At the same time, international travel and trade has tripled in volume in the last decade and can quickly spread pests and diseases around the world causing great damage to horticulture, crops and the environment. New statutory controls on importing plants and plant products into the UK to safeguard plant health. “Meaning that plant material entering the UK will require a phytosanitary certificate (PC); the EU plant passport is no longer valid in the UK.” 

The U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE – (USDA) state that world trade has significantly increased over the years to meet the growing demand and at this moment in time (December 2021) America is the only country to import more than it exports. USDA researchers Michael Livingston, Craig Osteen and Donna Roberts argue “That this increase in agricultural imports raise the risk of inadvertently introducing foreign pests and diseases.” which has been proven to be the case. For example, the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle introduced in the 1990’s are creating serious damage to trees in the Northeast and Great Lakes States.

More recently Ralstonia solanacearum, a bacterial pathogen that damages potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and other horticultural products was detected on greenhouse geraniums imported from Kenya and Guatemala. “The cost of foreign pests and diseases can also include the temporary loss of export markets, such as when Japan, Korea and other countries suspended imports of U.S. beef when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was detected in an imported cow in December 2003.” Studies by the National Plant Board, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Technology Assessment and others report that foreign pests and diseases cause billions of dollars of economic losses to U.S. agriculture each year, while also adversely affecting ecosystem values and services.

These cost estimates include sizable public expenditures, including emergency funding to address new pest or disease threats and outbreaks. Today, 21 Federal agencies are responsible for some aspect of managing foreign pests and diseases in the United States. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has by far, the leading role accounting for about $9 out of every $10 that the Federal Government spends annually on prevention and control of foreign pests and diseases. Annual expenditures for APHIS programs ranged from $1.1 to $1.5 billion between 2003 and 2007 including, emergency expenditures for programs such as increased BSE surveillance in 2004-06 and the introduction of import bans.

In evaluating such bans, economists try to measure the benefits of imports against the management production market and/or resource costs that might be associated with an outbreak of a disease or pest. Studies show that this varies on a case-by-case basis. Import bans have reduced total welfare in some cases, because the cost of disease establishment was out weighed by the consumer benefits from imports. For example, APHIS estimated that the annual net benefits of replacing a long standing ban on imports of Mexican avocados with more targeted phytosanitary measures totaled about $70 million, providing analysis support for USDA’s decision to grant Mexico full access to the U.S. market in 2007.

A recent study by an ERS economist, which examined options for policies to reduce the risk of entry of the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly), illustrates how economic analysis can inform public decision making. The medfly is a serious pest for many fruit and vegetable crops and is known to exist in 65 foreign countries. (hereafter referred to as quarantine countries) APHIS allows imports of fresh produce from these countries only if they have been treated to eliminate medfly larvae. Currently, eight treatments are approved for the medfly. One of the most widely used is cold treatment, under which produce imported for fresh consumption must be refrigerated according to specific schedules (temperature-duration combinations) before allowed entry into U.S. markets.

Australian viewpoint – pests and diseases are a significant social, economic and environmental burden for Australia. They can affect primary production productivity; access to export markets, public health and
amenity; conservation of biodiversity and the natural and built environments to our individual and collective detriment. These effects can reveal themselves through increased costs of production, loss of or restrictions to export trade, reduced tourism, loss of biodiversity, greater public health costs and reduced public amenity.

Some introduced pests and diseases such as pest animals (rabbits, foxes, carp), weeds (blackberry, mimosa), animal diseases (Johne’s disease) and plant pests (potato cyst nematode) have become established over time in Australia with no prospect of eradication. Some of these pests and diseases may have economic, environmental or social impacts of national significance. Consequently, a nationally coordinated approach may be required. Given the shared responsibilities for their management among stakeholder groups, the effective management of nationally significant threats requires clarity of policy direction, priority, roles and responsibilities.

Governments at the national, state and territory levels; industry and individual landholders have invested jointly and individually in pest and disease management over many decades. These investments have been made across the biosecurity continuum onshore, at the border and offshore. Managing biosecurity is critical to a sustainable and productive agricultural sector and healthy environment. It protects our farmers and our environment from the impacts of serious pests and diseases that can significantly increase the costs of production and market access, domestically and internationally and affect our native flora and fauna. Effective management of established pests and diseases also assists Australia to meet its obligations with respect to international trade.

Under the Coalition of Australian Governments Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity signed in 2012, Australian governments are progressing reforms to strengthen the national biosecurity system. The objective is to deliver more effective and more sustainable biosecurity outcomes for governments, industry and the broader community. One focus of this agreement is to establish a national framework for managing established pests and diseases of national significance. Consistent with emerging policy across numerous portfolio areas, there are opportunities to:

  • move away from government enforcement as a primary means of managing the impacts of established pests and diseases
  • adopt approaches in which the nature and magnitude of investment is determined by the extent and balance of public and private benefits
  • focus public investments on strategic functions including addressing market failure
  • promote more collaborative working arrangements between government and those stakeholders directly affected by established pests and diseases rather than have stakeholder groups acting in isolation.”

World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Kamal Saggi and Mark Wu in their World Trade Review Volume 16 Issue 2nd April 2017, pp. 279 – 302, state “Global exports of agricultural goods exceeded $1.7 trillion in 2014, with food accounting for over 80% of the total value.” “Such cross-border movement of food and agricultural goods helps ensure the sustenance and economic well-being of billions around the world. Yet, trade rules for agriculture remain an extremely sensitive issue. This is particularly the case when agricultural imports carry the threat of disease.”

Not surprisingly then, under the rules of the World Trade Organization member countries are allowed to restrict the importation of agricultural products from diseased regions. However, if governments could do so without limitation then this freedom could quickly devolve into a protectionist excuse that has the potential to seriously thwart trade liberalisation in the agricultural sector.”

Saggi and Wu argue that relevant WTO rules therefore, “must seek to balance two competing objectives providing sufficient flexibility for sovereign governments to regulate imports from diseased regions,” while simultaneously culling out protectionist measures for which the threat of diseased imports simply serves as an excuse for keeping imports at bay. “Getting this balance right is tricky, in 1994, Uruguay Round negotiators drafted the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) to spell out in detail the requirements that a WTO member must follow when seeking to ban or restrict imports of agricultural goods.”

Summary – our journey began with the dawn of time mentioning microbes and bacteria, arrival of plant life, dinosaur era, the early hominins and their eventual adaptation to community life and trade. To say that as a species we have evolved through a ‘life-long’ learning curve into a civilised society in reality is a misnomer, one only has to look at history and the present day shenanigans to substantiate this fact.

We know that every country has its own endemic pest and disease problems, some have invaded other lands by wind and wing a natural phenomenon and also by the hand of man resulting in consequences on a catastrophic scale, which we have little chance of eradicating. Because (a) we cannot see the problem until it is too late and (b) we lack the technical knowledge of how to arrest the situation. Yes there are many chemical solutions that can be used, but not all are effective especially with the many of pests and diseases we have mentioned in these articles. Moreover, these chemicals are not only dangerous to human health they eek into the soil killing microbes, earthworms, nematodes and other much needed creatures.

It can be agreed that commerce is an important factor in the modern world, but our attention to detail has been lackadaisical to say the least. Countless goods have been exported in infested packaging worldwide – the pests and disease have escaped multiplying in their millions ravaging agriculture and forestry. Many nations are now spending billions to eradicate pests and disease and the cost is escalating, whilst poorer under developed countries whose national GDP is practically non-existent suffer in silence and starve.

As stated at the beginning “whatever course of action deemed necessary taken either by individuals, communities and/or sovereign nations, there will always be stiff opposition and the threat of sanctions of one description or another.” Yet nations continue to blame each other instead of looking closer to home, it is imperative that we find common ground to seek solutions to curb the never ending invasion of pests and disease world-wide, failure to do so will result in devastating consequences.

As a species we rely heavíly on an array of factors vital to our very existence including technology, transport, housing, energy, education, medicine, clean water, forestry and agriculture for our immediate needs. If these are not protected then we face the inevitable – a world of devastation, dire water scarcity, where famine and pestilence rampage amok. Is this a world we want our children’s children and their descendants to inherit?

Image courtesy of Thanh Nien News

It is nearly 2 years since covid 19 reared its ugly head – many countries are now in phase 4 and a new variant Omicron has emerged, over 5 million lives have been lost due to ignorance and official incompetency and the figures are climbing. In reality, nations government’s handling of C19 has been a blatant scandalous failure moreover, diseases including Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Syphilis and Chlamydia, Scarlet Fever, Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough and Legionnaires disease once eradicated are now returning in many parts of the world.

We wrote this series of articles to highlight the problems man has created and battled with for aeons, a predicament that is now escalating unprecedentedly. If the powers that be are inept in controlling C19 when scientific knowledge is available, how can they solve this issue where idiosyncrasy and bureaucratic meddling will undoubtedly ensue; the popular myth (although untrue) “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” is appropriate here. American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) stated that “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities – Fact is not.” These articles are not fictional tales of realism, they are reality. Until next time, BW, Nik.