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  • Writer's picturePippa Hackett

International Day of Plant Health

2024 Conference Speech

I am very pleased to welcome you today to the Gibson Hotel in Dublin to celebrate the third ever International Day of Plant Health.


The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Plant health, safe trade and digital technology’. 


And what an apt location we find ourselves in this morning: overlooking a busy Dublin Port, including our Border Control post and Plant Health Inspection Facilities. 


I’d like to extend a warm welcome our special guests who have travelled to join us today to mark this special day.


Diarmuid Gavin, the well-known Garden Designer and TV Presenter, is here today in his capacity as FAO Goodwill Ambassador to Ireland.  Since his appointment by the FAO in 2022, Diarmuid continues to be a champion for plant health, and he supports the FAO’s work in raising awareness on how protecting plant health protects the environment and contributes to ending hunger and malnutrition.


Sam Bishop, Head of International Plant and Bee Health Policy with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or DEFRA also joins us today.  DEFRA is the National Plant Protection Organisation for the UK. 


The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine maintains close links with DEFRA to ensure that we are all working collaboratively to protect plant health. 


And indeed Ireland is very much looking forward to hosting the UK & Ireland Plant Health Coordination Group Meeting in Dublin in July to continue our positive working relationships. 


Sam is also the Vice-Chair of the IPPC Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) Bureau.


Some of the stakeholder groups we work closely with join us for our panel discussion today - Colette O’Flynn who is the Invasive Species Officer from the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Gary Healy, Head of Regulatory Affairs from Coillte.


And finally, Kieran Dunne, who is a Professional Plant Health Operator from L&K Dunne Nurseries, is here with us too.  And Kieran will share his insights on plant health from a Professional Operators perspective.  


Thanks also to the Chief Plant Health Officer for Ireland Louise Byrne and her team of officials within the Department who work across various disciplines to ensure we deliver on our role as the National Plant Protection Organisation for Ireland, a role we take very seriously, and take great pride in doing so on behalf of Ireland.


Today, we celebrate the role of plants in sustaining life on our planet and recognize the need to protect them from the threats that endanger their health and well-being.


The United Nations has designated the 12th of May as the International Day of Plant Health (IDPH) to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and the environment, and boost economic development.


Those of us at this conference today already have an appreciation of the key role that plants play in our lives and an understanding of the importance of plant health.


Ireland, like many countries, relies on trade as a principal source of economic growth. However, we know that increased trade poses a threat from pests and diseases.


Each year over 240 million containers move between countries, carrying goods including plant products.  This naturally brings with it phytosanitary and biosecurity risks that we all must deal with.


About 80 percent of international trade consignments include wood packaging material, providing a potential pathway for pest transmission. And we know all too well the economic consequences of pests and diseases taking hold.


From that trade perspective, we have invested significantly in our infrastructure at Border Control Posts.  There is an opportunity to visit our Plant Health Inspection facilities at the Border Control Point in Dublin Port this afternoon, where you will see first-hand the facilities where officials check consignments of plants and plant projects at the point of entry into the country.


It is increasingly important that we continue to scan the horizon for the potential threats of pests and disease, that we anticipate how we would deal with an outbreak by having contingency plans in place, and that we all remain alert and work together to protect biosecurity and plant health. 


According to the FAO, it is estimated that damages from invasive pest species incur global economic losses of approximately USD $220 billion annually, and that is aside from the damage to the health of our environment. So it’s clear that protecting plant health across borders is essential, and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) plays a pivotal role by promoting global collaboration in plant health and the development of international standards, known as International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures.

Innovative solutions, like electronic phytosanitary certification, streamline the process, making trade quicker and more secure.

Last year my Department adopted electronic phytosanitary certification or e-Phyto, and I understand that the feedback from you the users of the system, is that it is efficient and effective in supporting trade.


My Department continues to implement Ireland’s Plant Health and Biosecurity Strategy 2020-2025 which sets out the importance of plant health and biosecurity for Ireland as well as ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are aware of the risks to plant health in Ireland, and their role and responsibilities to reduce that risk.


In the last year, we have had various pest outbreaks in Ireland.  These outbreaks have been managed under our General Plant Health Contingency Plan which we published last year following stakeholder consultation. 


These contingency plans are important as they set out the procedures to be followed and the measures to be taken in the event of an outbreak of a regulated pest, which could have the potential to cause significant economic, environmental and social impact.


Contingency plans aim to ensure that the effects of a finding or outbreak are minimised, and that eradication and control measures are implemented in a timely and effective manner.

There are structures and arrangements in place globally, regionally and nationally to support the protection of plant health.


And alongside my Department, Professional Plant Health Operators play a key role in protecting plant health.


Professional Operators have important responsibilities in areas such as traceability of movement of plants, plant passporting, notification of high-risk plant imports, and monitoring the health of their plants and plant products. 


There are over 2,000 Professional Operators for both horticulture and forestry registered with the Department.  These operators include garden centre and nursery owners, forestry companies and retailers and importers and exporters of plants and plant products and it is great to see so many in attendance today.    


Professional Operators cooperate with our network of plant health and forestry inspectors across the country as they undertake vital plant health surveys in garden centres, nurseries and forests as part of our annual national surveillance plan. So I would like to thank the Plant Health Operators for their ongoing cooperation and collaboration with the Department and our inspectors.


And it is not just DAFM and the Professional Operators whose input we rely on.


The role of our citizens is increasingly important in protecting plant health, and hence this international day was created to raise general awareness on plant health. In the presentations that follow, you’ll hear lots about the many ways in which ordinary citizens can play an important role in protecting plant health in Ireland.


I should mention too that DAFM is collaborating with the European Food Safety Authority this year to promote an EU Commission funded plant health awareness campaign called ‘Plant Health 4 Life’. 


The campaign aims to promote the vital link between plant health and our everyday lives, with the objective of reaching a variety of stakeholders including the curious traveller and the home gardener. 


And I’d urge you to please support this campaign as you see it rolled out by the Department in the coming months. 


So, without going on any further, I will leave it to the experts to get on with the presentations.

I am really looking forward to hearing the contributions from our speakers and panelists this morning on their role in protecting biosecurity and plant health, and I hope everyone here has an enjoyable and informative day.



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