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Belgian tomato grower raided on suspicion of using prohibited ToBRFV vaccine

Past Tuesday a raid took place at a tomato-growing company in Rijkevorsel, Belgium. The grower is suspected of developing and using a prohibited vaccine against the Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV). Additionally, several house searches took place in Beerse and Kapellen. The Prosecutor's Office of Antwerp announced Tuesday afternoon that four people have been detained.

The raid in question took place at Stoffels Tomaten, as part of an ongoing investigation. The grower is suspected of deliberately releasing the ToBRF virus, with the intention of making his tomato plants resistant to the virus. The company in question denies these claims in a response to Het Nieuwsblad. The website of this newspaper contains images of the raid.

The so-called vaccine is said to contain a mild variation of the virus itself. By decree of the European Union, however, there's zero tolerance for any variation to avoid the virus' entrance and spread within Europe.

Also inspectors from the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) were present at the Tuesday morning raid. They emphasized that the virus only affects certain plant species (tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers), but can't be transferred onto humans. This is supported by an article in the Gazet of Antwerp. The newspaper spoke with professor of ecological plant virology René van der Vlugt, from the WUR.

In The Netherlands there is also an ongoing investigation of tomato growers that infect their plants deliberately. Last year two companies were raided. This was cause for the FASFC to warn about the ban of a ToBRFV vaccine. The Gazet of Antwerp argues that the grower would have collaborated on the vaccine with a Dutch company.

Work is being done to develop a vaccine. However, it takes time to get official authorization for this virus, which has had a tight hold on growers in both Belgium and The Netherlands since 2019. Next to vaccinations, growers currently count on strict hygiene regulations and the first resistant species.

The four detainees will be interrogated by the police. Moreover, a large sum of money has been seized.

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