Project objectives and benefits

The aim of the project is to develop a range of post-harvest plant quarantine treatments for timber and horticultural products to prevent the spread of non-indigenous pests and diseases into and around the European Union.

In view of the listing of methyl bromide as an ozone depletor under the Montreal Protocol and consequent international restrictions being placed on its use, the project will seek to develop treatment methodologies suitable for timber and horticultural produce that do not use methyl bromide. Such treatments must be proved capable of giving extremely high levels of kill (virtually 100%) consistently and reliably within defined parameters. This project will fulfil the EC’s obligations under proposed revisions to Council Regulation (EC) No 3093/94 and will help to ensure that treatments exist for new, unforeseen, problems where methyl bromide is not currently used and would be prohibited under these regulations.

The project will investigate the following techniques which previous work has shown have potential as quarantine disinfestation treatments.

  • Heat treatment of timber
  • Composting of bark and wood chips
  • Hot water dipping of ornamental plants and cuttings
  • Extreme controlled atmospheres treatments of ornamental plants and cuttings
  • Alternative fumigant treatments of ornamental plants and cuttings (phosphine and plant volatiles)

Combination treatments

Much of the work relies on physical treatments that are not subject to pesticide regulations. Of the chemical treatments involved, phosphine already has widespread registration and its use should cause no problems. No plant volatiles are as yet registered for use although there is intense interest in this area and the registration of some compounds is foreseen in the medium term. The use of carbon dioxide in extreme controlled atmospheres may require an extension of existing registration.

With the exception of the heat treatment of timber all of the techniques are novel in their application to the commodities concerned. It will therefore be necessary initially to establish the viability of the techniques for the effective quarantine treatment of selected commodities. The proposal also combines investigation of the temperature indicator system with refinement of the heat penetration equations for timber, providing an integrated system that will be applicable to both quarantine procedures and to kiln quality control for general use.

Techniques will be developed to produce effective quarantine treatments for a range of commodities against selected pests and to define the limits of their applicability. Where effective treatments are developed, these will be submitted to appropriate international bodies, such as the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO), for adoption.

The work will concentrate on insect pests. However in all cases the possibility of control of pathogens will be considered and where the techniques are considered suitable (primarily heat treatment of timber and composting), the effect of treatments on relevant pathogens will also be investigated.

In line with EU environmental policy the project seeks to develop alternatives to the use of methyl bromide. The project will allow companies within the EU, and throughout the rest of the world, to reduce and possibly eliminate the use of this highly toxic and potentially environmentally damaging chemical. Even if it proves technically impossible to develop alternatives for existing treatments the requirement to demonstrate the lack of suitable alternatives necessary to allow the retention of methyl bromide for critical uses will have been demonstrated.

The development of effective quarantine treatment schedules will help to prevent the introduction and spread of damaging pests within the EU and support the export of EU resulting in less damage to crops and products and making it easier to ensure the maintenance of the quality of EU produce. Effective schedules will also assist in reducing the requirement for pest control in general. Because biological and other non-chemical control measures are rarely immediately available for new pests, this will be particularly useful in reducing the extent to which chemical control measures are used.

The development of non-methyl bromide quarantine treatments will allow growers and foresters to eliminate the use of an environmentally damaging chemical while still protecting the industry, and associated jobs, from losses that could be caused by the introduction of new, damaging, pests and diseases. It will also avoid the use of other pesticides that would be required to control them should they be introduced.

Horticulture is a growing industry, particularly in less developed areas of southern Europe where it often provides substantial employment. The introduction of damaging new pests and diseases may threaten the continued viability of certain of these and increase the cost of pest control in others. Less developed areas with a lower knowledge base may be less well equipped to deal with new pest introductions making them particularly vulnerable. Currently, the international trade in potted plants is almost non-existent, because of the difficulty of treating soil-born organisms. A reliable and efficient quarantine treatment would give a large impetus to the trade in rooted plant cuttings and orchids. Work currently being carried out by partner 1 on the treatment of miniature trees (Bonsai and Penjing) to control soil borne nematodes, suggests that the heat treatment of potted plants may be a viable option for the control of soil and root borne organisms. By protecting the industry from the potentially disastrous introduction of new pests the problems associated with their introduction can be reduced or eliminated and may allow the industry to expand into new areas. This in turn will result in a safeguarding of jobs in the horticultural area.

Forestry is an important source of income to the EU as a whole, and can be particularly important to the local economy in more remote rural areas. Again the introduction of new pests and diseases can threaten the success of this industry and put jobs at risk. Forests are also important environmentally, reducing flooding and providing habitats for other wildlife. The use of appropriate quarantine treatments can prevent the introduction of new pests and diseases that could cause severe damage to forests, both natural and managed.