USDA Amending Plant Certification Program

May 7, 2004 - 09:21

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is amending its regulations to establish a long-awaited certification program for imported plants. The newly established program requires registration and certification of any sites that produce plant species in countries where Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 is known to occur. This is the program breeders, associations and government have been developing since the first occurrence of R. solanacerarum and which is only now becoming formalized and announced.

The new program also requires regular testing for Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 at production sites as well as use of photosanitary certification for all imported material from those sites. These new requirements will ensure that imported geraniums and other garden plant species are free of the pathogen.

According to the Society of American Florists (SAF) and the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), who have been working together with APHIS to develop the new certification program, "The industry is very supportive of the continued effort to develop a clean-stock certification program for imported geranium cuttings...We believe that, once implemented, this effort can serve as a model for other, similar programs."

Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 was detected and confirmed in February 2003, in United States greenhouses that received imported geranium plants from Kenya. In December 2003, the pathogen was also detected in a greenhouse in New York on two varieties of geraniums - 'Americana Coral' and 'Americana Bright Red'.

A third variety, 'Americana Cherry Red II', is implicated because it was produced in the same Guatemalan greenhouse where the two varieties were found positive. According to APHIS, these three varieties are the basic unit of control. They are defined in the action plan and targeted for destruction.

The May 23, 2003 interim rule called for the declaration of phytosanitary certificates to accompany all geraniums imported into the United States. According to APHIS, the new interim rule adds a certification program that must be implemented at production sites in countries where Ralstonia is known to occur that produce geranium cuttings to be offered for importation into the United States.

The rules and regulations of the new interim rule, effective May 24, 2004, specify that APHIS and host country government officials visit production sites annually after initial approval to verify compliance. Also, all equipment and materials that come in contact with articles within the production site must be adequately sanitized so that the pathogen "cannot be transmitted between plants or enter from outside the production site via the equipment."

The rule also adds the requirement of a trust fund that will pay APHIS' costs in overseeing inspections. According to the regulations, "The government of the country in which the articles are produced must enter into a trust fund agreement with APHIS before each growing season." The government of the country is required to pay, in advance, all estimated costs that APHIS expects to incur, including salaries, travel expenses and other incidental expenses incurred by inspectors.

The new action plans, which are guidelines for inspectors, eliminate the 2003 action plans, which called for the destruction of all plants within a 1-meter radius of infected shipment. According to APHIS, there is little or no risk of the pathogen being transmitted through leaf contact or splashing of water from leaf to leaf.

The plan also eliminates the time/temperature model for holding plants. The old model was an attempt to predict infection when infected plants expressed wilt symptoms. Through recent USDA research indicates that "some plants continue to have latent infections, not showing wilt, even when high temperatures are maintained for long periods of time." Therefore, the old model cannot be used to accurately identify infected plants.

SAF and ANLA's joint comments said, "The Q-37 regulations have a valid, biological purpose: to protect against the infestation of alien pests and diseases...We support the APHIS review of the Quarantine-37 regulations and urge that the current effort to establish a clean-stock certification program for imported geranium cuttings continue."

For more information go to www.safnow.org or www.anla.org.

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