North-America is an important market for Dutch sweet pepper growers. But the demands made on exporting companies are high: detection of harmful insects might lead to trade embargoes. Thanks to intensive cooperation between the sector, the Dutch Food Safety Authority and Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands has reliable monitoring systems. Loss of revenue is therefore limited and expensive inspection costs are avoided.
With a wingspan of approximately fifteen millimetres, the False Codling Moth does not look very intimidating. Yet, this miniscule creature was responsible for a North American trade embargo on Dutch sweet peppers in 2009. The result? Millions of losses for the Dutch sweet pepper sector. Sweet pepper farmer Ted Zwinkels remembers it all too well. "A Codling Moth was found on a sweet pepper. The worst part was that it wasn’t even a Dutch product, it was only exported via the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the borders were closed to all Dutch peppers."
In addition to being the director of the company Zwingrow, Zwinkels is a board member of P8, an industry organisation that represents approximately 90 percent of all Dutch sweet pepper growers. The organisation knew it was important to take swift measures. "We wanted to show that we as a sector had the situation under control as fast as possible," Zwinkels reflects. "Fortunately, we know how to respond quickly and adequately in the Netherlands."
Zwinkels refers to the existing cooperation between the sweet pepper sector, the Dutch Food Safety Authority and Wageningen University & Research. This cooperation had resulted in a reliable monitoring system when the moth species duponchelia was found on sweet peppers in 2007. The Netherlands received a warning from the American USDA: if this problem recurred the borders would be closed and it would not be possible to export without export certificates. Scientists at Plant Research International, part of Wageningen University & Research, developed a reliable monitoring system based on pheromone traps, which was installed at all companies. Random sampling checks demonstrated that duponchelia caterpillars were not present on Dutch sweet peppers. The US consequently retracted the impending export measures.
When the False Codling Moth was found two years later, Wageningen University & Research was able to supply the appropriate pheromone traps in no time, according to Zwinkels. The organisation was subsequently able to demonstrate that the Dutch exports were clean within several weeks, and the embargo was lifted soon after. Zwinkels: "By acting quickly, we were able to avoid a lot of revenue loss. What factors into this, is that the Americans have confidence in the measures we take as a sector."
Zwinkels is very positive about the Dutch effectiveness, which has not only resulted in ways to monitor duponchelia and the False Codling Moth, but has also lead to programmes for monitoring the medfly and the tomato leafminer. "The level of knowledge in the Netherlands is higher than anywhere else. Think of Wageningen University & Research’s pheromone expertise, for example. But it is equally important that our network functions properly. If necessary, we can contact each other quickly. This allows us to intervene much faster than elsewhere in the world."