19 January 1996

Potato brown rot inquiry under way

MAFF is investigating the UKs first suspected case of potato brown rot since 1992.

Initial tests on a consignment of imported Dutch seed potatoes confirmed this week that the brown rot bacterium was present.

Further tests are being carried out at the Central Science Laboratory and results should be available later this week. If the disease is confirmed the potatoes will be destroyed. Related potato consignments imported into the UK are being traced by MAFF.

The suspected outbreak confirms UK growers fears over brown rot which surfaced last autumn after more than 60 outbreaks were confirmed in Holland. The UK imports about 40,000t of seed potatoes from Holland each year.

The EU plant health committee imposed tougher testing regulations on the Dutch to ensure that all seed potatoes were tested before export.

The new rules also gave importing countries the authority to monitor and test Dutch potatoes for the disease.

There is no control available and the disease spreads easily. The bacteria can survive in soil so any outbreak leaves the land useless for growing potatoes. Dutch farms where brown rot has been confirmed will not be allowed to grow potatoes on the infected land for five years.