There are various policies, regulations, institutions and standardization bodies that govern the fight against ToBRFV and ToLCNDV in tomatoes and cucurbits. Our new blog series “Plant health policy at a glance” explores the key players in this field. In its first edition, we present the EPPO, the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization.
What is the EPPO?
The EPPO is an intergovernmental organization responsible for facilitating cooperation in plant health within the Euro-Mediterranean region. 15 European countries founded the EPPO in 1951, which has its headquarters in Paris, France. Nowadays, the EPPO has 52 members, including all member countries of the EU. Its main objectives are to protect plants, by developing international strategies against the introduction and spread of pests which are a threat to agriculture, forestry and the environment, and by promoting safe and effective pest control methods.
As a regional arm of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the EPPO also actively participates in global debates on plant health. As a standard-setting organization, it also sets a large number of key standards in the areas of plant protection products and plant quarantine. These standards constitute recommendations that are addressed to the National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) of EPPO member countries. Finally, the EPPO promotes the exchange of information between its member countries. It maintains information services and databases on plant pests, organizes conferences and workshops, and raises awareness on the importance of plant health policies towards the general public.
How the EPPO supports plant health policies
The EPPO hosts a plethora of tools and resources to support the horticulture value chain in tackling ToBRFV and ToLCNDV in tomatoes and cucurbits. It hosts the EPPO-Q-bank database to support plant pest diagnostic activities of phytosanitary organizations. This includes NPPOs, general inspection bodies and private laboratories. The EPPO-Q-bank allows for virus identification based on sequence alignments of (RT)-PCR and high-throughput sequencing (HTS) data, which supports the identification and detection of harmful quarantine organisms. In addition to this, the EPPO’s global database provides a useful, regularly updated one-stop-shop on e.g. the distribution and reporting of plant pests, including on ToBRFV and ToLCNDV. The global database is not only maintained by the EPPO secretariat, but is also home to an active community of contributors including researchers, agricultural extension services and other key horticultural stakeholders.
Additionally, the EPPO has also created an Alert List which informs NPPOs about emerging pests, diseases and invasive alien plants possibly presenting a risk to the EPPO region. The EPPO Alert List further suggests candidates to be submitted to further studies (i.e. for Pest Risk Analysis) and which could eventually be proposed for regulation as quarantine pests. While ToBRFV is regulated as a quarantine pest in the EU, ToLCNDV is currently on EPPO’s Alert List.
A multifaceted organization with global impact
The tireless efforts of EPPO in innovating plant health policies in the Euro-Mediterranean region have also had a global impact. The multitude of EPPO’s panels and working groups involving renowned plant health experts have shaped global plant health policy developments, including by setting standards that reach beyond regional borders. This concerns especially phytosanitary regulations and plant protection products. Furthermore, EPPO also hosts the EU Minor Uses Coordination Facility (MUCF). MUCF enables EU farmers to produce high quality crops by filling minor uses gaps through efficient collaboration to improve availability of chemical and non-chemical tools within an IPM framework.
EPPO has also played a crucial role in effectively communicating plant health to a wider audience. The EPPO secretariat was behind the “Beastie the Bug” mascot to lead the communication campaign of the International Year of Plant Health 2020. While the International Year of Plant Health may be long over, Beastie the Bug has been such a tremendous success that the EPPO mascot is still active two years later. Its Twitter channel gathers over 1,500 followers. According to the EPPO secretariat, Beastie the Bug has already visited +40 countries and travelled more than 420,000 kilometers. This is equivalent to travelling the Earth’s circumference more than ten times!
The VIRTIGATION project and EPPO
As a key player in influencing Euro-Mediterranean and global plant health policies, the EPPO constitutes a crucial policy stakeholder for the VIRTIGATION project. In fact, several VIRTIGATION partners such as DCM and JKI are either members or experts in EPPO working groups and panels. This includes the ToBRFV Pest Risk Analysis working group, as well as the panel on diagnostics in virology and phytoplasmology. Moreover, VIRTIGATION partner Stichting Wageningen Research was a crucial initiator the EPPO-Q-bank database. Thus, VIRTIGATION aims to continue and strengthen this close cooperation between its project partners and the EPPO throughout its duration. Through its work in the coming years, the project aims to contribute to setting recommendations subsequently addressed by the EPPO to NPPOs. VIRTIGATION will also assess whether based on project findings, partners can advise EPPO on certification and regulation, as well as risk assessments.