USDA SOD Order Protects Industry

January 21, 2005 - 14:42

On January 10, a revised USDA order takes effect as the latest step toward ensuring clean, disease-free nursery plants in the U.S. market. The order strengthens safeguards for the fungus-like plant disease Phytophthora ramorum, commonly known as SOD. Many in the industry are wondering why and how the order happened, and what it is intended to achieve, according to ANLA.

USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service first took quarantine action for SOD in 2002, soon after it was found to potentially affect many plants common in gardens, landscapes and the natural environment. The initial regulations focused on the counties where the disease was known to occur in northern California and extreme southwestern Oregon. Nurseries were inspected and tested for P. ramorum.

In April, 2004, USDA announced emergency measures for all of California, in the wake of a few detections of the disease in nurseries outside the counties where it occurs in the natural environment. Limited detections also occurred in Oregon and Washington.

During the summer of 2004, USDA held a series of reviews and meetings with scientists, state officials, industry groups, environmental groups and other stakeholders to consider how its regulations should change based on the newest and best scientific information about P. ramorum. Several states, particularly in the South and Southeast U.S., expressed the view that USDA measures needed to be broadened and strengthened in order to protect their nurseries and natural resources from potential harm. Others weighed in with their ideas on science-based and practical safeguards. The revised order reflects a thorough, thoughtful and consensus-based effort to evolve the regulations as experience and knowledge are gained.

In brief, the January 10 order requires expanded inspection and/or testing for most nurseries shipping plant materials interstate from California, Oregon or Washington. “USDA and its state cooperators are strengthening surveillance and protective measures for P. ramorum, said Craig Regelbrugge, senior director of government relations with the American Nursery & Landscape Association. “The nursery industry is cooperating fully out of a desire and commitment to ship consumers healthy, pest-free trees, shrubs and flowers.”

With much inspection and testing work already done, and more underway, the order is not expected to seriously disrupt either the supply or price of plant material this spring. “There will be added burdens and some potential delays for some nurseries, but USDA and the states are taking proactive steps to minimize delays,” Regelbrugge added. Lining up additional diagnostic labs for plant sample testing is one such measure, he said.

For the short term, the USDA order is simply the next step in the U.S. response to this disease of concern, with further modifications as knowledge is gained. “We have so much to learn about this disease,” said Marc Teffeau, director of research with the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI). “Is it a real threat across the U.S., or just in certain environmentally favorable areas? What plants are threatened and where is the disease? How we manage it effectively over the long term?” Teffeau said that a major research effort has been underway since 2002, with HRI and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, and a number of universities working to answer research questions important to the U.S. horticultural industries.

Regelbrugge said that the arrival and establishment in the United States of serious plant pests and diseases is inevitable in the global economy, with expanding travel and trade. “We must improve our prevention, detection and rapid response capabilities to keep the next P. ramorum from getting to the U.S. in the first place. Once here, we need to learn how to live with it, how to manage it” he said. For more details in the USDA revised order, visit www.anla.org.

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