Ringing alarm bells after increased finds in roses

"African fruit moth requires alertness, but no different than usual"

A small animal is causing a fuss in both ornamental and greenhouse vegetable cultivation. More finds of the African fruit moth in roses from Kenya and Tanzania could be a threat to Dutch greenhouse vegetable cultivation. What is going on?

Large headlines at AD ("African fruit moth causes growers headaches") and NOS ("African fruit moth threatens Dutch peppers") yesterday. A substantial increase in the discovery of the African fruit moth in roses from Kenya and Tanzania has led to additional checks on imports from both African countries.

Fruit moth
The moth is a European quarantine organism and not without reason. "It is a serious threat, but the risks should not be exaggerated," says entomologist Gerben Messelink of Wageningen University & Research. "There is certainly no threat, the fact is that the sector must be alert at all times to ward off q-organisms such as the African fruit moth. It is not inconceivable that Dutch pepper growers will encounter problems with this moth, but it is very theoretical."

GroentenFruit Huis and Greenhouse Horticulture Netherlands go one step further. They distance themselves from the aforementioned reports of NOS and AD. "We have not received any notification from bell pepper growers that the African fruit moth has been found in the greenhouse," as is emphasized by Sjaak van der Tak, chairman of Greenhouse Horticulture in the Netherlands. "In addition, the growers use a strict protocol to prevent any problems."

Gert Mulder, director of GroentenFruit Huis, emphasizes that it is primarily an African problem. “This fruit moth can nestle in roses over there. For example, it is important for growers in Kenya to ensure that they export clean products to the European Union. It is the task of the NVWA to ensure that the flowers are actually free of organisms that do not exist in the Netherlands and we certainly do not want. Fact is that the NVWA also handles this well; they intercept parties and reject them in case of a find. In Africa too, lots of checking is done by the authorities."

Citrus moth
It is not the first time that the moth is found, says Gerben Messelink. "There were also problems in citrus a few years ago. At that time an import and export stop was then prevented with adequate post-harvest treatment and control." The import and export stop is what both sectors are most concerned about.

Rose importers naturally want to prevent roses from Kenya and Tanzania from being banned because the moth nestles in the roses over there. And bell pepper growers and traders fear damage to the crop and to the bell peppers that will no longer be sellable as a result. Not because the moth is harmful to human consumption, but because of the quality requirements. "Such a moth lays eggs and the larvae eat towards the rose buds, for example at the home of the consumer," Messelink explains. "That bunch of roses then ends up in the green waste container and then there is a chance that the moths will end up in a greenhouse area with all the consequences that that entails."

Some nuance
Incidentally, the Netherlands already has native, similar so-called leaf rollers. “We know the cabbage leaf roller and the carnation leaf roller. They too can nestle in peppers, but growers can simply pick eaten fruits out while sorting. That costs money, but is not insurmountable."

100% checks
What makes it different with the African fruit moth is that it is an animal from outside. Just like the sweet pepper beetle in 2012, Messelink remarks for nuance. In addition to four clearings, the sweet pepper beetle caused a lot of tension and fear in the sector at the time. “The beetle also became a quarantine organism and therefore must be controlled. Of course, the clearings were painful for the growers, but it did help. If necessary, a batch of roses has to be destroyed."

Something that the Association of Wholesalers in Flower Nursery Products is also aware of. The VGB warns of a 100% check on rose imports and calls that in the AD "a costly measure". It also calls on importers to consult with African growers about better precautionary measures.

The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, together with the Quality Control Office responsible for the controls, does not expect that 100% checks will be introduced soon. They tell the NIS that the inspection percentage is set in Brussels. A risk assessment is made there.

Wrong figures?
Greenhouse horticulture in the Netherlands and the GroentenFruit Huis mainly criticize the tone in the national media, based on wrong interpretation of incorrect figures. "Numbers of reports and increase rates are mentioned in this context that do not relate to the African fruit moth, but to the total of intercepted shipments," says Sjaak van der Tak.

Gert Mulder adds that the special life cycle of the African fruit moth minimizes the risk of a larger problem. "The buyers of our peppers can rest assured."

What are the correct figures?
The fuss of yesterday is partly due to the fact that last month the VGB reported that more finds had already been made in the first half of 2019 than in 2018. That seems to be a significant increase, but a remark must also be made here. The number of checks on shipments from Kenya and other countries has doubled since February from 5 to 10% and from Tanzania from 15 to 50% - so that more fruit moths are found is logical. Nevertheless, there has indeed been an increase in the number of finds in the Netherlands.

While the European Commission reported last year that fewer African fruit moths were found in Europe in 2018 compared to previous years, the Netherlands did report an increase, according to the Commission's report.

African response
In Africa, they are now trying to do everything possible to keep the moth out of the roses. According to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC), the increase is based on the total number. "Sometimes more and sometimes less, but no structural increase in the number of finds," says KFC's CEO Clement Tulezi. "We are doing everything we can to prevent this, as the EU represents 80% of our export markets - and as numbers continue to rise we fear consequences. That is why we collaborate with, among others, the Kephis inspection service, the Dutch embassy, importers and the European Commission. We scout a lot in greenhouses and packaging centers, set up traps in and around the greenhouses and treat the packaging areas.”

The difficulty for the Kenyans is that the outside of the flower does not show whether there is a fruit moth in it. In cold storage, during transport, the moth sleeps, to wake up again when the temperature rises. “I doubt whether the moth can survive in the Dutch climate. But alertness is certainly good. For us too: the EU does not have enough capacity to check all the flowers, but we do have rising costs. It would be better for everyone if the control percentages would go back to 5 or 0%. We do everything we can to achieve that goal."

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