• 1000 tonnes ‘smuggled’ to UK market
• Small ware potatoes supplied as seed
• Offenders told they face prosecution
Potato growers are being warned to ensure any seed stocks planted this spring are properly certified and from a reputable source.
It follows reports that 1000 tonnes of small ware potatoes were imported into the UK and supplied as seed to growers in the eastern region – breaking rules designed to maintain biosecurity and keep plant disease out of the country.
Richard McIntosh, Defra’s assistant chief plant health officer, said the risks associated with any attempts to circumvent biosecurity requirements were extremely serious and could not be overstated.
“Some operators are considering attempts to circumvent the plant health and/or marketing requirements, in particular bringing in, and marketing/planting as seed, small ware of varieties that are unavailable or difficult to grow as seed,” he warned.
“The biosecurity risk of such practices cannot be overstated.
“Pests and diseases known to occur in Europe – such as Epitrix, ring rot, brown rot and zebra chip – pose a serious threat to the GB potato industry and growers should not take the economic and reputational risk with either their own businesses or those of their industry.”
Growers should remember that classified seed potatoes had been officially assessed as meeting prescribed quality and pest and disease requirements, said Mr McIntosh. Growers should not put themselves – or others – at risk by purchasing anything other than genuine seed potatoes.
Marketing ware potatoes as seed potatoes is illegal. The Animal and Plant Health Agency said it would be pursuing robust action against any infringements of both the seed potatoes marketing and plant health legislation.
Offenders are are liable on summary conviction to a fine. This includes the planting of ware potatoes or any other potatoes not obtained under an officially approved programme for the certification of potatoes.
As the authority responsible for enforcing the regulations, APHA said it would be carrying out general and targeted surveillance to ensure that both farmers and seed suppliers are complying with plant health and marketing legislation.
Mr McIntosh said interpretation the legislation was ultimately a matter for the courts. Other offences, such as criminal fraud, may also be pursued depending on each individual case.