JOHN MORGAN, the Welsh seed potato farmer at the centre of last year‘s ring rot outbreak, has slammed the authorities and his suppliers for keeping him in the dark over the seed‘s reject history.
He would never have bought the seed, he told FARMERS WEEKLY, if he knew it had been rejected in Honduras months before it arrived in the UK.
“They should never have sent it here,” said Mr Morgan, referring to Dutch seed supplier Agrico.
“They‘ve treated me like a cheapjack and seem to have no respect for the 40 years experience I have as a seed grower. I‘m very disappointed.”
Mr Morgan‘s seed, linked to the Nov 2003 ring rot outbreak, went on an 11,000 mile round trip to the tropics where it was rejected before it was sold to him in April 2003.
“It goes without saying that we need much more stringent controls, especially for loads with a rejection history,” he said.
But the first he knew of the seed‘s chequered history was when the government published its report into the outbreak a year later.
“I can‘t believe DEFRA had the information for up to six months and never disclosed it to me,” said Mr Morgan.
He said he was “disgusted” at the Department‘s behaviour and questioned how rigorously it had followed through investigations with Dutch counterparts.
But DEFRA denied it has avoided “rocking the boat” with the Dutch authorities.
“DEFRA has been as determined as anybody to establish the source of the outbreak,” claimed a spokesman.
“While it is disappointing that it has still not been possible to trace the origin of infection, this is certainly not from a lack of effort or rigour in either the UK or the Netherlands.”
Plant Health authorities are not required to look into transport history of seed lots, he confirmed.
“DEFRA, would not be aware of whether a particular consignment, while meeting EC requirements, had failed to meet the requirements of a third country.”
Agrico seed director Jan van Hoogen said the company is not obliged to declare any rejections seed may have had nor does it check previous loads of containers the seed is shipped in.
“But the risk of contamination is very small. The seed was never out of its bags until it arrived back in Holland, where we have very good hygiene controls,” he said.
The rejection in Honduras, a rare occurrence, he stressed, was political.
“Local growers are not happy with seed imports and find any excuse to reject them.
“The soil came from the farm in Holland, but the container was delivered to us cleaned and brushed.”
Although neither the Dutch authorities nor Agrico did anything wrong, these procedures and controls will be examined in the current Lessons Learned review, said DEFRA.
Our Keep British Crops Healthy campaign page has more information on the plight of growers battling notifiable pests or diseases.
There are also links to find out more about existing outbreaks and those that could be just round the corner.