Three questions for Philippe Reignault, Director of Plant Health and Director of the Plant Health Laboratory at ANSES
The health of plants is increasingly threatened. What issues need to be addressed to better protect them?
"Pests, especially plant pests, are one of the major contributors to the loss of production and biodiversity worldwide. Diseases and pests are emerging or re-emerging with greater frequency, affecting plant health and by extension the environment, our food and our health. Tackling these threats is costly, and if we add this to the resulting production losses, it translates into several billion euros invested or lost each year worldwide. To preserve crops and the diversity of species unique to each ecosystem, it is vital to avoid the introduction or establishment of these organisms in new areas, especially since it is often very difficult to eradicate them once they have become established. Anticipating and reducing these risks also means we can avoid or limit the use of plant protection products. It is therefore essential to take effective precautions to avoid major consequences, and even health emergencies."
What action is ANSES – in particular its Plant Health Laboratory – taking to address these issues?
"At ANSES, plant health mobilises highly specialised scientific expertise to support the public authorities in their prevention and control measures, both nationally and internationally. With more than 40 years of experience in the field, the ANSES Plant Health Laboratory brings together 90 employees, in particular scientists with sought-after skills in mycology, entomology, virology, etc. The Laboratory has six sites in metropolitan France and the overseas territories. It has cutting-edge technologies and unique systems, such as the quarantine system, which means it can confine and study plants brought into the country for research or varietal selection purposes. It is the National Reference Laboratory for all plant pests (bacteria, viruses, fungi and oomycetes, nematodes, invasive plants and insects) and for many of them is also the European Union Reference Laboratory. As such, it plays a major role in hazard detection and risk assessment in plant health. The ANSES Lyon Laboratory also studies phenomena of resistance to plant protection products and is involved in outbreak surveillance."
What are the challenges to be met in order to continue to support control measures?
"Faced with increasingly diverse and globalised threats and emerging phenomena, we need to be particularly vigilant and responsive to ensure that advances in science keep pace with these changes. This means generating ever more comprehensive scientific knowledge and developing more powerful analytical methods to rapidly detect and identify pathogens and pests. The aim is to strengthen surveillance and response capabilities when alerts occur. A new European regulatory framework on plant health has recently been adopted, which involves proposing appropriate measures in terms of plant imports, for example. The challenge is to go ever further and faster in our work thanks to technological progress, such as in genome sequencing, for example. We must also give ourselves the means – and we are working to do so – to act with greater synergy at European and international level by mobilising the entire scientific community and pooling our efforts."
Advancing science for more effective prevention in plant health