Françoise Petter studied agronomy in France and first worked for the French National Plant Protection Organisation. She began her career as the head of Paris airports inspection teams. She then joined the national level of the French NPPO in 1994 where she was mainly responsible of nursery surveillance programmes.
She was also involved in the negotiations of the EU legislation as well as in bilateral negotiations with third countries for French export programmes. In 2003, she joined the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization as a deputy director, her current position. She is in charge, in particular, of the coordination of the diagnostic and pest risk analysis programme.
AL: Could you tell us bit about the work of EPPO? What are your key areas of concern?
The European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO) is one of the 10 Regional Plant Protection Organisations. It was established in 1951 by 15 countries at the same time as the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) came into force. Now we have 52 countries and we cover Europe, Central Asia, as well as Mediterranean countries (including North African countries). We have two main areas of activities, one is Plant Protection, but we are also active in the area of Plant Protection Products (PPP) where we promote the safety and efficacy of plant protection products.<br/>
In Plant Protection our focus is the prevention of introduction and spread of pests in our member countries. We are providing guidelines and standards and information for our member countries.
We also support our members for international activities in the framework of the IPPC. We prepare our own standards, but we also participate in the global standard setting process. We have networks of experts and a permanent pool of experts in our panels. We organise panels, conferences and workshops and bring experts together, from our member countries but also from around the world.
It is also important to know that EPPO is funded by the member governments: our main budget comes from the contributions of our member countries. The Council is where the member countries decide about the budget and approve the standards. Regarding relations with the EU, all founding members are EU countries, but EPPO was founded before the EU. All EU countries are members with full voting rights whereas the EU Commission has permanent observer status but without the right to vote. The Commission can also nominate members of our panels.
AL: One of your main work areas is to set standards to prevent the introduction and spread of pests. But are these standards binding for the member countries?
EPPO has developed more than 300 standards in PPP (mainly on efficacy evaluation of plant protection products), in plant quarantine we have more than 250 standards (including more than 140 in diagnostics). In some areas of work the number of Standards are more limited as we don’t need many standards. In Pest Risk Analysis, we have developed guidelines on how to perform the pest risk analysis. We have developed eight standards.
EPPO standards are recommendations to the members, but it is up to the member to translate them into their regulatory frameworks. Of course, if countries approve the standards, they are expected to implement them and to base the regulation on them. EPPO standards are prepared at regional level, and the region is very big. So the countries have to decide if the recommendations are applicable to them. Sometimes there are differences between recommendations of EPPO and of its members (including EU countries).
When recommending measures EPPO does not do a cost benefit analysis for all, this has to be done at country level. The cost for inspections at the border, for instance, might not be the same in different countries, and this will have to be weighed against the cost of the pest introduction. Some countries might not take measures because they think that the pest is unlikely to establish.
AL: How do they relate to the IPPC standards?
Our standards are aligned with International Standards. In some cases, for instance, in Pest Risk Analysis, our standard was developed before the IPPC
standard; it was a parallel process, but it was easier to get our standards approved by our members. At the time we asked our members if we should revoke our
own standards as there were international standards. But they considered that our standards were more practical as they are organised in questions and answers in a structured sequential way, not as an open text as the international standards. We made a comparison and improved our standard on risk analysis, for example on the environmental impact. So, the members decided we should keep our own standards, but they are aligned with the international standards.
AL: The work of EPPO involves a lot of consultation and negotiation with different stakeholders. How do you do this in practice?
We have a formal standard setting process. The standards are prepared in the panels, then they are sent to all members for formal consultation. The comments are collected by the secretariat and then go back to the panels. If it becomes complicated to deal with the comments, we will organise follow up
meetings with the panel. We only consult our member countries. The countries can consult different groups in the country.
For example, if we develop standards for the testing of seeds, they can consult with their seed industries, but, in general. EPPO will only consult with the countries, not the industries. So the countries are the only stakeholders in our consultations.
However, for the standard setting process, we have different levels of meetings, with participation from different stakeholders: Panels and Working Parties. The panel is where we conduct the technical work. We want people with technical knowledge in the panels. They don’t have to be from the National Plant Protection Organisation, they can also be from universities. The members of the panels are nominated by the countries but the countries have to cover the cost of participation and, for some, this is a big burden. So, some countries are better represented than others.
In the working parties we have more policy people. But we have also risk managers in the panels, people who are managing risk on a daily basis. We have one working party for Plant Protection Products and one on Phytosanitary Regulation. Private sector stakeholders are not usually involved in Panels. Historically, ECPA (European Crop Protection) has been involved in EPPO’s work on plant protection products and members of ECPA are members of Panels in this area. However, they only have observer status in the working party on plant protection products (the body that recommends the adoption of standard to the EPPO Council). Expertise is present in the industry which is valuable for the activities of the organization on, e.g., efficacy evaluation of plant protection products
In the Plant Quarantine area, stakeholders are generally not members of panels nor present as observers at the Working Party on phytosanitary regulations. We consult them from time to time, we gather information, but that is only additional. In diagnostics, we once prepared a diagnostic protocol with a contribution of the seed industry.
AL: What are the major challenges that phytosanitary authorities and Plant Protection Organisations are facing in Europe and the EPPO area?
It is not a really original story. But our reality is that international movement has increased a lot. When I started my career as the head of an inspection team in Paris, most of the imports of planting material were coming from Europe. There were hardly any imports of e.g. nursery plants from China or from the Americas. And that was about 30 years ago. And then trade increased, companies started to produce counter season in the southern hemisphere and then bring the product back. And so we saw an increase in the number of pests that were introduced over the past 30 years.
One of the biggest challenges we have at the moment is to try to prevent the entry of new pests into the region. New threats are emerging, and we are really struggling with this. How can we have a good prediction of what could be the risk for tomorrow? And how can we be prepared for that? In many cases we have to deal with unknowns. Some of the pests that are popping up in some areas of the world have never been known as pests before. It is only when these are introduced into new areas where they don’t have a co-evolution that they become more damaging than they were in their areas of origin where antagonist organisms are present. Or, simply when they arrive, they find a new host which was never identified before. This is really a tricky part of the prediction, called early warning.
Let us go back to the history of how plant health has been dealt with in Europe for many years in the past. We have been working under the assumptions that we identify risks and we design measures to prevent that risk to happen. This means that in European regulation, if a risk was not identified, the product could be imported. Many countries in other parts of the world work on the reverse strategy. For example, many Anglo-Saxon countries work under the principle that what is not known should be evaluated before it is allowed. If you don’t know, you do not allow import before the risk is evaluated. There was a real difference between Europe and other countries. This has now changed in EU countries with new legislation and the concept of high-risk plants. In many countries you need an import permit before you can export to this country. In many European countries what was not covered in the regulation could be imported.
In our member countries, we have different strategies. In Israel, they operate what is often called a closed system. Now the EU
legislation is getting closer to a closed system. EPPO has contributed to the evaluation of the efficacy of plant health strategies. In 2009, an EPPO Council Colloquium considered whether the plant health systems that are in place in the EPPO region are able to deal with the challenges of increasing trade and climate change. The outcome of the colloquium, in particular regarding the risks posed by the imports of plants for planting, was further discussed in different EPPO meetings and the EPPO Council decided to allocate funds for a study on past experiences with new trade (new origins, new commodities) of plants for planting and the associated risks. The study and recommended a more protective approach and a commodity assessment before allowing import. This has subsequently led to a change in strategy.