Prevention of the introduction of potato flea beetle (Epitrix spp.)
A number of potato flea beetles (Epitrix spp.), native to North America, are known to cause damage to potato tubers and E. tuberis is regarded to be the most damaging species. Potato flea beetles (Epitrix spp.) are not currently present in the UK, but have been identified in Spain and Portugal, from which the UK imports both set and loose skin ware potatoes. Whilst there have been no findings of Epitrix in Europe outside Portugal and Spain to date, damage typical of Epitrix has been seen on ware potatoes imported from Portugal to the Netherlands and Northern Ireland.
Epitrix damage can have a major impact on the appearance and commercial value of potatoes, particularly through lesions caused by larval feeding. The effects of such damage can range from rejection of lots to complete crop loss. In addition, this pest would be difficult to eradicate once present.
Serious tuber damage has been seen in Portugal since 2004 and initially Epitrix similaris and E. cucumeris were identified in fields where this damage occurred. However, the identity of E. similaris in Portugal and Spain was reviewed in 2015 and has been confirmed as a new species, named Epitrix papa. The geographic origin of E. papa is unknown, but is thought to be North America. Damage was first observed in 2004 in the north of Portugal (near Porto) but Epitrix was not identified as the cause until 2008. By 2008, the pest had spread to all potato growing regions in Portugal. In 2010 E. papa was detected causing damage in several potato crops, spread across Galicia in northern Spain, during official surveys. Epitrix papa has since been recorded in Asturias (2014), and more recently in Andalucia (2015).
In March 2012, emergency measures were agreed to reduce the risks of further introductions of Epitrix potato flea beetles into the EU and to reduce the rate of spread of Epitrix species within the EU. Imports of potatoes into the EU from countries where Epitrix is present will now only be permitted if they have been grown in a pest-free area or have been washed or brushed (or an equivalent measure applied) to remove the pest and any soil (0.1% by weight tolerance). Member states must also carry out annual surveys for Epitrix, particularly on growing potato crops and harvested potato tubers
All imports of ware potatoes into Northern Ireland from Spain ,Portugal, Poland and Romania must be notified to the Department at least 2 days in advance of the importation - see link to form below.
Legislation also requires all potato imports from Spain and Portugal to be washed so there is no more than 0.1% of soil. Potatoes from "Demarcated Areas" - that is areas where the pest has been reported - have additional import conditions. These include plant passporting, and washing or brushing so there is no more than 0.1% of soil. Potatoes from the Balearic and Canary Islands do not have to be washed prior to importation.
DAERA will continue with their surveillance activities, and we would encourage all those involved with importing potatoes from Spain and Portugal in particular to be vigilant and to report any suspicious signs or symptoms to the DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch at firstname.lastname@example.org , phone 0300 200 7847, or the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) at email@example.com.