Plum pox virus containment program launched

Work to monitor, study and contain a yield-robbing disease of tender fruit trees will now fall under a new five-year, $17 million federal program.

First pledged in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s pre-election budget in March, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and federal ag department on Thursday launched a new Plum Pox Monitoring and Management Program (PPMMP).

First spotted in Ontario and Nova Scotia in 2000, likely arriving through imported material, plum pox virus (PPV) can cause significant yield losses in stone fruit crops such as peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots and also damages ornamental trees and shrubs. It’s transmitted from infected trees by aphids, or by grafting and budding.

The disease, which does not affect human or animal health, has since been eradicated in Nova Scotia and hasn’t been spotted in other tender fruit-growing provinces such as B.C. or Quebec.

In the first phase of the program, the CFIA will "immediately" mount a regulatory program, based on the federal Plant Protection Act, to mitigate the spread of the disease in Canada.

A quarantine area has been designated for years in Ontario’s Niagara region, where the virus is still present. Regulated materials — not including fresh fruit — from susceptible trees will not be allowed to move outside the quarantine area and the CFIA will continue to run surveys to see if the virus is spreading.

Propagation of the regulated material from those types of trees will remain banned, CFIA said Thursday, but the ban will be subject to annual review.

That said, "the application of long-term regulatory controls remains necessary to prevent further spread of PPV," the government added.

CFIA and the federal ag department will develop such regulatory controls and best management practices, in tandem with the governments of tender fruit-growing provinces.

Resistance strategies

Research initiatives will also be set up to develop "durable" virus resistance strategies and orchard management practices, the government said Thursday.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada would then work with provincial partners and industry on "education and awareness initiatives" to encourage fruit and nursery growers to adopt best practices.

PPV has no cure and can only be eradicated by removing or destroying infected trees, roots included, by burning and chipping. No chemical treatment is available.

The federal and Ontario governments estimated in 2007 that not moving to eradicate PPV would cost the fruit industry $114 million over the following 25 years in lost yield and quality, probable restrictions on border movement, the disease’s likely spread across Canada and about $900,000 per year, indefinitely, for Ottawa to monitor the disease.

More PPMMP details are to be provided to "partners, stakeholders and regulated parties" in the coming months, the government said.

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