Nature Conservancy Outlines APHIS Recommendations

March 9, 2007 - 11:14

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the primary agency tasked with preventing the entry of potentially invasive pests and pathogens via nursery plants and other pathways. Currently, the agency restricts plant imports only after it undertakes a meticulous risk assessment process. Furthermore, the risk assessments address known pests only, while millions of potentially damaging pests and diseases remain unknown today.

Aware of these shortcomings, APHIS is expected to move toward an approach that relies on improved pest management practices by importers and their overseas suppliers, referred to as “clean stock” programs, according to the Nature Conservancy. More immediately, APHIS intends to create a temporary holding category, which it calls “Not Approved Pending Pest Risk Assessment” (NAPPRA). The creation of a NAPPRA category would allow APHIS to suspend importation of suspected pest carriers until a full risk assessment has been completed.

Although APHIS’s proposals tend in the right direction, the agency will not succeed in fulfilling its obligations to protect U.S. forests and trees unless it moves much more assertively in implementing NAPPRA and in developing more comprehensive programs, according to the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy recommends a 5-point implementation plan for NAPPRA that would enable APHIS to effectively prevent future infestations, while saving public funds and relieving some of the regulatory backlog that currently hampers the agency.

  1. Publicly adopt a high level of pest protection as a national mandate.
  2. Create a temporary holding category for imported plants (NAPPRA) and immediately put into it all imported plants and cuttings except those plants with exceptional characteristics that indicate safe importation can continue. To be exempt from the NAPPRA list, plants should at a minimum have been widely imported in the past with few interceptions of known pests or diseases and be characterized by stable conditions of production and import (volume, origin, cultivation techniques) so that past experience remains a reasonable guide to future risk. Plants on the NAPPRA list could still be imported as tissue culture or seeds, under an approved clean stock program, or under strict quarantine.
  3. Create a process that allows reasonably fast decision making to remove from NAPPRA plants posing little risk.
  4. Speed up the pest risk analysis process by first assessing the likeliest pathways of infestation.
  5. Work with stakeholders and Congress to secure more resources for risk analyses, prompt regulation updates, improved methods of detection and pest control and outreach. The Nature Conservancy believes that such an approach to NAPPRA would be an important first step toward an integrated approach, one that would engage all stakeholders in solving the problem of forest pests introduced on living plants. The organization invites a broad and inclusive discussion of this proposal and other approaches that fairly balance risk, trade and the value of America’s native forests.

To read the entire Nature Conservancy report, visit www.nature.org/initiatives.

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