December 14, 2021

Four P’s of plant health

After a year’s absence due to the pandemic, the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) held its 44th annual meeting virtually, November 3-5, 2021. Among many other items, the agenda consisted of updates from the National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO) of Canada, the United States and Mexico, along with a full day of presentations and discussions on systems-based approaches as sustainable risk management tools. Wendy Asbil from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), shared Canada’s perspectives on some of the risks that “keep us awake at night” – Pests, Pathways, Patterns and People. 

The most obvious of the four P’s are Pests — invasive species like: spotted lantern fly, Lymantria spp., box tree moth, elm zigzag sawfly, Japanese stiltgrass, kudzu, jointed goatgrass, and giant reed and molluscs. In addition, there are many pests we are not even aware of yet.

Pathways refers to how pests enter Canada, and it’s not just through plant movement.  Conveyances and cargo, like containers, pipes, tiles, trucks, campers and marine vessels all carry risk. Mail and courier pathways are not new, but the volume of materials being shipped in this manner is increasing, with pest risk increasing along with the volume.

Pattern shifts in import/export and new trade routes are also contributing to increased pest spread risk. Port congestion means some materials must now travel further overland to find a port that can handle them. Consumer choices are changing to more exotic foods and goods, with some consumers even trading in insect pests. In addition, more equipment is being shipped to northern ports to support mining and natural gas exploration. 

Lastly, people have led a surge in online buying and selling, turning consumers who are unaware of international obligations, into importers and exporters. But people are also supporting management of the risks through their active and growing involvement in community science. The public has proven to be enthusiastic and extremely adept at finding pests in their local communities and then posting their discoveries on public platforms like iNaturalist.

NPPO, like the CFIA, are the nation’s firewall in a sense to manage these risks. It is an immensely challenging task. Certainly, systems approaches that help manage the risks and support NPPO’s efforts are going to become more and more important within each country as well as between trading partner countries around the world.