New exotic pests, diseases enter India; experts call for bio-security

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Oct 7 | Updated: Oct 8 2007, 05:13am hrs
Experts have urged the government to set up an inter-ministerial body to deal with bio-security problems and prevent the entry of alien pests and diseases. They have suggested that effective mechanism should be put in place on the lines of the bio-terrorism law in the US.

The inter-ministerial body on bio-security should consists of representatives from the union ministries of agriculture, defence, health, environment and forests and commerce, they said. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) has identified a number of exotic pests and diseases which have entered the country. NBPGR has been given the responsibility of conducting quarantine checks on imported plants and plant materials used in public research institutes.

According to official reports NBPGR had found incidence of Peronospora manshuria on soyabeans from US, tomato black ring virus on French beans from Columbia, Anthonomus grandis on cotton from US. These pests are not known to occur in India.

Race or bio-type or strains of pests which are not known to occur in India was also found in some imported consignments. These are Helminthosporium maydis/race T on sorghum from US, pea seed borne mosaic virus on broad bean and Burkholderia solanacearum biovar 2 on groundnut from Australia.

NBPGR also found number of pests occurring on host plants in different country on which it had not occurred before. NBPGR findings have sounded a note of caution to the government about the need for developing an appropriate mechanism to prevent the entry of dangerous pests and diseases in the interests of food security.

The scientific body has already noted the presence of some exotic pests on some crops, like blight on chickpea which possibly came from West Asia, B.tabaci biotype K on cotton, PSTV on peanut, BBTV on banana which possibly came from Sri Lanka, San Jose Scale on apple which came from US and Golden nematode on potato which came from UK. It also identified pests like Lantana camara coming from central America and Phalarius minor from Mexico. The presence of other exotic pests identified are fluted scale, codling moth, potato cyst nematode, coffee berry borer, potato wart, banana mosaic virus and apple scab.

Interestingly the NBPGR has listed the years of entry of exotic pestsSunflower downy mildew in1984, Peanut stripe virus in 1987, American serpentine leaf miner in 1991, Spiraling white in 1993, Vegetable/pea leaf miner in 1994, Banana bract, streak virus and Coconut mite in 1995 and Bemisia tabaci biotype B in 1999, coconut mite in 1995.

We have been suggesting to the government from time to time for the need to take stringent measures to prevent the entry of any exotic pest or disease which may endanger our food security. We can also conduct agarose gel electrophoresis of PCR to detect terminator technology in imported transgenic plants, said a senior scientist in the NBPGR plant quarantine division.

There are some National laws to ensure bio-security to a certain extent like Destructive Insects and Pests Act 1914, Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order 2003, Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Biological Diversity Act 2002 and Prevention of Food Adulteration

Act. Experts, however, feel that there should be one comprehensive law to ensure bio-security in the country. The governments recent relaxation of quarantine norms in case of wheat import and deregulating imports of processed genetically modified food have been severely criticised by experts. Trade analyst, Vijay Sardana said, There is a need to have stringent law to ensure bio-security. The government should not relax any quarantine norms in case of imports.