1 March 1996

Dutch say brown rot testing is adequate

By Tony McDougal

THE Dutch government has refused to bow to increasing pressure from MAFF to review its testing procedures for the potato disease brown rot.

Whitehall civil servants met their Dutch colleagues in Wajinjen, near Utrecht, on Tuesday to discuss the two cases discovered by MAFF inspectors which have been traced back to the Netherlands.

But a senior Dutch agricultural official said that though the tests could not be 100% effective in finding brown rot, they were in line with the international protocol.

The Dutch outbreak continues to spread rapidly, with 85 confirmed cases, prompting moves by some UK seed potato growers to cancel their Dutch orders.

John Haffenden, who grows 44ha (109 acres) of seed potatoes in Kent, said he was not taking any seed sourced from Holland.

"Out of the nine varieties I used to grow in the past, half came from Holland. It might be considered as a knee-jerk reaction but we have managed to get seed from elsewhere from all the varieties except Minerva.

"There are many farmers who are committed to Dutch seed this year but they will look to source from English and Scottish stock next year," he added.

At present, the Dutch export 45,000t of seed potatoes to the UK and up to 500,000t around the world.

The first outbreak of brown rot in the UK was found in a consignment of the early variety Minerva, which is marketed for Dutch potato firm Den Hardigh in the UK by Caithness Potato Breeders.

A spokesman for Caithness said he was concerned that potato growers might switch away from Dutch seed varieties. "There is a danger that growers in Scotland might be tempted to sell a combination of good, mediocre and poor seed potatoes, which will undoubtedly be reflected in both yields and performance.

"There is room for improvement for the Dutch to tighten regulations surrounding testing procedures," he said.

Tom Stones, of seed importers Potex, argued that the current Dutch tests were only 90% accurate, adding that he was deeply concerned that once established in eastern England brown rot could spread quickly along Britains waterways through farmers irrigating their crops.

Mr Stones was critical that MAFF had not taken a stronger stance against the Dutch. "If the boot had been on the other foot the Dutch would have stopped every tuber from coming into their country and picked up any legal cost later," he said. &#42