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International Waters: Singapore's Rapid Response to FVO Findings

Posted: December 26, 2013, 1:40 p.m. EDT


By John Dawes

These additional measures included a self-imposed prohibition by the Singapore authorities on the export to the EU of seven types of aquatic plants susceptible to the tobacco whitefly (Bemisia tabaci). In practice, the prohibition affected more than just seven plants, as three were listed as genera (and not as individual species): Altenanthera, Hemigraphis and Echinodorus, multiple species of which are popular as aquarium plants.

Shortly after the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Plant Health delivered a scientific opinion on the risks to plant health within the EU, with particular reference to the viruses transmitted by the tobacco whitefly, a delegation from the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) visited Singapore (June 18 to 24, 2013) "in order to evaluate the system of official controls for the export of plants to the European Union.”

The terms of reference of the FVO audit went wider than just B. tabaci. To quote from the final report’s objectives: "Particular emphasis was given to those regulated plants and plant products that are hosts of Bemisia tabaci, (and) nematodes (roundworms).…In addition, the production of host plants of Thrips palmi and other Thysanoptera (slender insects with fringed wings and commonly referred to as "thrips”) and of Pomacea (island apple snail) exported to the EU…”

FVO
While the FVO found some shortcomings with regard to aquatic plant exports, most will be addressed and rectified by the end of this year. John Dawes

Having examined the organizational aspect of the plant health controls currently in place within Singapore, the FVO delegation found these to be satisfactory. With regard to the tobacco whitefly, the nematodes, the thrips and the apple snails, the delegation concluded that "the organisms of concern to the EU are present in Singapore and no statutory measures are in place.”

Nonetheless, the AVA stated that, although the apple snail is present in Singapore, "the snail is no longer exported to the EU together with ornamental fish,” following the EU decision of November 2012 banning their import. The other organisms are monitored on a regular basis, and pre-export inspections and monitoring for the tobacco whitefly includes the use of yellow sticky traps every two weeks.

In assessing the measures employed relating to aquatic plants for export, the FVO audit recognized that "there is now an official involvement from the AVA in the Assurance Certification Scheme (ACS) to comply with EU import requirements. After strengthening of the ACS, official pre-export inspections and monitoring of Bemisia tabaci in the ACS companies are carried out, although they still do not meet requirements.”

There also were some failings in observing International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) requirements when it came to export inspections. However, the FVO audit found that "inspection facilities are appropriate for performing export checks of consignments equivalent to those laid down in ISPM 23.”

It also found that while some measures did not fully meet EU requirements, they were in place and carried out on a regular basis. Further, it concluded that "measures are in place to guarantee that the exported aquatic plants are free from snails of the genera (sic) Pomacea.”

Looking at other aspects, such as the issuing of phytosanitary certificates, steps taken when infected consignments are intercepted either internally (within Singapore) or following notification of an interception from the EU, the FVO delegation similarly found that measures are in place, but that not all fully meet EU requirements, especially those relating to the certification of plants originating in another country.

Despite the observed shortcomings, the FVO’s overall conclusions are that:
• There is a clear structure and division of responsibilities within the national plant protection organization;
• Staff are well-trained and generally aware of the EU harmful organisms of concern and EU import requirements;
• The official laboratory is well-equipped and technically competent;
• There is good communication with producers and exporters;
• As a consequence of interceptions in the EU, the AVA reinforced its Assurance Certification Scheme, and several additional steps were taken, including the suspension of exports of certain plants; and
• These actions have reduced the number of EU interceptions of harmful organisms.

In June 2013 at the AVA headquarters, the main findings and conclusions were presented. Seven recommendations on all aspects of the visit were submitted by the FVO. The AVA’s comments on the draft report suggest a series of rewordings, a number of which were made prior to the final report being published.

The AVA also responded in detail to all of the recommendations, stating deadlines by which it feels it will be able to implement them. Some of these measures already have been implemented; all will be in place by the end of 2013, with the exception of that dealing with the phytosanitary certification of plants originating in another country. As this will require close liaison with the National Plant Protection Organizations of the countries in question, it could take some time. Nonetheless, the AVA estimates that the matter will be resolved by March 2014.

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