Phytosanitary status: key axis in the preservation of Canarian biodiversity

The Canary archipelago is known worldwide for its uniqueness. Formed by eight islands of volcanic origin, this community enjoys an exceptional climate and a territory full of contrasts marked by its diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna.

Taking into account the exceptional nature of the territory, with regard to flora and crops, certain regulatory procedures are in place that aim to preserve the unique environment that makes up the islands. In this sense, the particular agroclimatic and ecological conditions also make it necessary for the Canary Islands to establish a specific regulation on plant health.

Such is the uniqueness of the archipelago that from the phytosanitary point of view, the Canary Islands function as a third country with regard to Peninsular Spain and Europe, therefore, for the production of plant products from the Canary Islands to be able to leave the islands, it is necessary that obtain a Phytosanitary Certificate issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. These types of conditions also apply to imports, for which ensuring compliance with the standard is vital, thus avoiding the introduction of new harmful organisms or plants and plant products, the introduction of which in the Autonomous Community is prohibited.

This phytosanitary regulation, which has the purpose of protecting agricultural productions and preserving the biodiversity of the islands, is materialized in the Ministerial Order of March 12, 1987, which establishes in detail the phytosanitary regulations related to import, export and transit of vegetables and plant products.

It is in this same order, in its Annex III, the vegetables, vegetable products and growing media whose introduction is prohibited in the Canary Islands depending on the original countries with which they are related are established. Likewise, the designation and country of origin for each of them is specified through a detailed list.

In the words of Antonio González, Head of the Plant Health Service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, “what this legislation allows is to maintain the phytosanitary status of the Canary Islands and prevent the introduction of any harmful organism that could alter it.” Likewise, González indicates that “the protection of the phytosanitary status is something that benefits all our farmers, since it seeks to preserve our crops from the introduction of new pests that harm Canarian productions”.

A clear example of this regulation can be found in the tropical pineapple (Ananas comosus). In this specific case, the introduction of tropical pineapple is prohibited in the Canary Islands from any country without exception. “We can find pineapples that harbor mealybug pests different from the mealybug we already have here, something that would have a negative impact on our local productions”, comments Antonio González. In addition, as the Head of the Plant Health Service highlights, “the introduction of the cochineal Maconellicoccus hirsutus (Hibiscus mealybug), would not only affect the tropical pineapple but also other plant species of great interest to the Canary Islands such as papaya, soursop, avocado, tomato, pepper, the vine, among others ”due to the heavy damage that could produce these productions “.

To avoid the possible negative effects that the improper introduction of certain plants or plant products could have, and to comply with the standard, the role of border checkpoints becomes vital. It is at these points where the phytosanitary control of the different imports is carried out. Furthermore, in the case of the Canary Islands, the Canarian Institute of Agrifood Quality (ICCA) functions as a second filter by having the power to carry out inspections in food establishments, thus controlling the food that is marketed on the islands. In the words of Juan Méndez, Head of ICCA’s inspection and laboratory and report service, “food must be safe and of quality in health in every way. In our case, we from the ICCA are in charge of ensuring the agri-food quality part, for which we carry out inspections to check the origin of the food, its traceability, labeling, presentation or even composition ”. As Méndez comments, “the objective that the ICCA pursues with these inspections is to avoid fraud, an action that really is to protect the entire sector. Protecting those who comply with the regulations against those who do not and market unfairly ”.

With regard to imports and compliance with established standards, Juan Méndez comments that encountering consignments of products introduced illegally is something that “does not happen constantly, much less, for us to find ourselves with this type of games becomes something more anecdotal than usual ”. In the case of finding them, Méndez assures that “if we find an illegal consignment, for example of a tropical fruit, where the merchant cannot prove its origin, it is immobilized and an administrative process is initiated to determine what to do with it. ”.

“Strict import and export regulations or continuous inspections are necessary procedures that the responsible experts work with every day in order to preserve Canarian biodiversity. A unique nature that must be cared for as such. ” This is stated by Alicia Vanoostende, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the Government of the Canary Islands, who also insists that “taking care of our lands and our farmers begins by avoiding those pests or dangers that, due to the conditions that exist here, have not yet come to us ”.

In short, the importance of maintaining the existing phytosanitary status on the islands becomes key when it comes to maintaining the biodiversity present here. Something that seeks to maintain the uniqueness for which this territory is known worldwide.

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