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Ian Hudghton, SNP Member of the European Parliament is seeking support from the European Commission for a strategy to prevent the spread of Potato Ring Rot. His action arises following worries in the sector after an outbreak of the disease in Wales in the last quarter of 2003.
Mr Hudghton has tabled a question to the Commission, along the lines of NFUS proposals which propose the creation of "high health regions" from which the disease has been absent. This would include Scotland which has remained free of the disease. Speaking from the Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Hudghton explained:
"The creation of these designated regions would achieve two goals. Firstly the spread of this disease could be stemmed. Secondly growers and consumers could have confidence that healthy crops are being cultivated in the protected zones. Scotland, which has steered clear of ring rot would qualify for designation under the proposals."
SNP MP Annabelle Ewing, whose constituency of Perth and Kinross is home to many of Scotland's potato growers and merchants commented:
"We need to learn the lessons of the past. Virulent crop diseases can wipe out farmers' livelihoods and any measures to protect the Scottish potato crop are to be welcomed. I trust that the Commission will look on these proposals favourably."
The text of Mr Hudghton's question reads:
"The Commission will be aware that the recent outbreak of potato ring rot in Wales gave serious concerns to potato growers in other parts of the United Kingdom, including my own constituency, Scotland. The Commission may also be aware that the National Union of Farmers in Scotland along with colleagues in Ireland are keen to take action to prevent the spread of this disease to their own crops by establishing "high health regions". This would allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to attain official designation as areas which are free from potato ring rot and enable a ban to be imposed on the import of seed from non-designated areas. This strategy would achieve the dual aims of stemming the spread of the disease and ensuring that disease-free areas are able to cultivate healthy potato crops. Would the Commission agree that such measures as are being proposed by the farmers of Scotland and Ireland would assist in preventing the spread of this disease and indicate what needs to be done at an EU as well as at a national or devolved level of Government to achieve these aims?"