The Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) will get a quarantine status (Q status), starting November 1. From that day on, a European emergency regulation will come into force, which includes that each case of the virus in Europe must be made public. The decision was made by the European Commission in July. For tomato and bell pepper, specific measures will apply, with introduction and movement of the virus in the EU being prohibited.
The allocation of a Q status to the ToBRF virus had been a matter of debate among virus experts for some time already, because taking strict measures doesn’t necessarily mean the virus will actually be eliminated. Destroying crops at companies affected by the virus is heavy-handed and costly – and the virus isn’t a danger to humans. This was a reason why the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) initially wasn’t a proponent of assigning a Q status.
Now, under pressure from several virus-free member states, a European-level decision was taken to assign Q status, in order to prevent the virus from spreading further. The successful elimination of the virus at infected German companies last year was taken into account when reaching this decision. In the Netherlands, a hygiene protocol is in place.
Obligation to report
The measures will be in force from November 1, both for bell pepper and tomato growers as well as breeding companies and young plant growers that work with one or both crops.
Growers will be under obligation to report. Upon infection with the ToBRF virus, they will have to report this to the NVWA in the Netherlands, or one of the designated organizations in other member states. Every member state then has the option to determine whether measures need to be taken upon discovery of the virus in production cultivation.
Since last summer, NVWA has been carrying out inspections in the Netherlands to look for ToBRFV, at the request of the European Commission. More than a hundred tomato and bell pepper cultivation companies have been visited so far, with no infections having been found. According to international plant health organization EPPO, both the Netherlands and Belgium have the status ‘ToBRFV-free’.
This could be considered questionable, however, because there’s no obligation to report yet in Belgium and the Netherlands. The NVWA responded to the EPPO reports: “There are indications of a possible presence in the Netherlands, but the NVWA has not been able to confirm this.”
ToBRFV findings have been confirmed in countries including Italy, Mexico and Turkey in recent months. At a British tomato cultivation company in Kent, the virus was found in July. The greenhouse was emptied, and would remain so for 14 weeks. Tests in a Dutch laboratory confirmed that it was indeed the ToBRF virus.
A more recent report came in August from Arizona and California. That particular report is not yet found on the EPPO world map update. Plant virologist Bob Gilbertson with UC Davis reported that on imported tomatoes from Mexico, where the virus has been present since 2018, ToBRFV was found.
Additional lab tests
For breeding and propagation companies, the Q status naturally applies as well. Tomato and bell peppers seeds will need to be free of ToBRFV or originate from ToBRFV-free areas, both before entering the EU and before coming on the market. Thus, lab tests are needed. Laboratories in countries where seeds come from, like Peru, can expect busy times ahead.
The emergency regulation are in line with the new European Plant Passport, coming into force December 14, where extra emphasis will also be on traceability of starting material.
Plantum, the Dutch industry organization for companies from the industry for plant-based starting material, together with the European Seed Association, tried to get ‘testing upon arrival’ as an extra option, but this request has not been granted. With ‘testing upon arrival’, the checks would have been moved from the country of origin to the country of arrival.