Plant diseases plague world trade

St. Paul, MN (August 13, 2001) -- Long before mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, countries battled invading plant diseases. In fact, so devastating have foreign diseases been to the worlds forests and crop plants that over the years countries have developed strict trade policies regarding everything from plant seeds to potting soil. But some are now arguing that its time for a reevaluation, stating that over-regulation is preventing agricultural advancements from reaching the countries that most need them; while under-regulation in some areas has opened the door for the potential spread of emerging diseases. There is enough concern that the worlds largest organization of plant health scientists plans to discuss these issues at their annual meeting in August.

States George Abawi, a plant pathologist at Cornell University in Geneva, New York and co-organizer with Rick Bennett (USDA - ARS, Washington, DC) of the special meeting on plant diseases and global trade, Many diseases are no longer the threat they once were. But the restrictions due to these diseases remain, preventing scientists and practitioners from utilizing scientific advances that would greatly help movement of crop germplasm as well as facilitating trade in the global market of today. Its simply time for countries to reevaluate their policies and see what needs to be changed and updated.

Wheat, one of the worlds most important food crops, is a case in point. Once traded freely between countries, an outbreak in 1973 of a disease known as dwarf bunts of winter wheat pretty much put an end to open trade. And even long after scientists learned how to control it countries like China and Brazil still refused to accept U.S. wheat. Only recently, after years of research and negotiation, the wheat trade between these countries has opened once again. But now a new disease, karnal bunt, threatens to create the same barriers to trade even though scientists are confident that the disease poses lit

Contact: Cindy Ash
American Phytopathological Society

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