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International Waters: EU Finally Bans Apple Snail Imports

Posted: Jan. 14, 2013, 4:55 p.m. EST


Imports of all species of apple snail (Pomacea spp) into Europe have been banned.
By John Dawes

There has been a great deal of confusion and debate concerning apple snails because certain species are known to be invasive and have a voracious appetite for aquatic and marsh vegetation. This appetite can wreak havoc on important crops, such as rice, that are grown in flooded fields. Other species don’t exhibit such habits. However, in a decision in which the innocents are blamed with the guilty, all species—irrespective of feeding habits—have been subjected to a total import ban.

Concern began mounting when one species, P. insularum (frequently misidentified as P. canaliculata, highlighting the considerable difficulty that exists in distinguishing between species), was found responsible for damaging rice crops in the Río Ebro delta in Spain. As the situation deteriorated, Spain took unilateral action and banned the import of P. canaliculata and P. insularum in August 2011. This promptly was followed by a total ban on all apple snails by including the whole genus Pomacea in the catalog of invasive species published in its November/December 2011 Royal Decree. No period of grace was granted, so imports and sale of apple snails became illegal in Spain virtually overnight.

Apple snails
As expected, the EU finally followed Spain’s lead and banned imports of all apple snail species.
Around the same time, the plant committee of the European Commission was taking a closer look at apple snails. In March 2012, the committee asked the Panel on Plant Health of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to investigate and prepare a statement on the subject, which came out in April.

By the end of April, the prospects of a pan-European ban on all species of apple snails were growing. At the time, I reported that European importers, as well as exporters of apple snails to Europe, would be well-advised to prepare themselves for a total ban—with no grace period—in the very near future.

Various drafts of the legislation have been discussed and revised, but in mid-September, the decision to ban all imports was taken. On November 8, the EC published the relevant Commission Implementing Decision, ”as regards measures to prevent the introduction into and the spread within the Union of the genus Pomacea (Perry) -2’12/097/EU,” officially banning all imports. Being a pan-European ban, all EU member states must implement the decision. So, no one should attempt to export apple snails to, or import them into, any European Union member state.

Member states will be required to carry out annual surveys and, if such a survey shows that Pomacea is present in a field or watercourse where its presence previously was unknown, the member state in question immediately must establish a demarcation area and a buffer zone around it.

Measures will be taken to eradicate the snails, and if and when the annual surveys demonstrate that the snails have not been found again in four consecutive years, the demarcation will cease.

Interestingly, while the Implementing Decision bans the introduction “or spread within the Union” of all species of Pomacea, it doesn’t refer specifically to the sale or ownership of the snails. Do individual member states make their own decisions on this? Spain, for instance, already bans sale and ownership, but not all EU countries follow this strict line.

Although the ban applies to Pomacea snails, the decision has implications for plant exporters and importers. From now on, aquatic plant consignments must be accompanied by a declaration within the health certificate that they have been examined and found to be free of apple snails. They also will be inspected at European Border Inspection Posts or at “the place of destination established in accordance with Commission Directive 2004/103/EC,” as decided by the member state.

Also, plants originating in demarcated areas within the union may be moved into nondemarcated areas only if accompanied by a plant passport. Going further, member states must carry out annual surveys of rice plants and “where appropriate, other specified plants in fields and watercourses.”

With the EC Implementing Decision ban following another one imposed by Singapore on the export of seven species of aquatic plants to Europe owing to their being infected with white fly (Bemisia tabaci), plus already-existing Europe-generated bans on other species, it seems fair to say that the aquatic plant sector is not going through its best moments right now.



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