In 1998, the inspection of fresh produce arriving on St Helena was formalised. The Biosecurity Team job is to protect the Island from new invasive species that can have a disastrous effect on St Helena’s crops and agriculture – and perhaps more importantly, on St Helena’s unique species.
Dr Jill Key, Pest Control and Biosecurity Officer said:
“The fruits and vegetables that are imported onto St Helena come in at two different temperatures, enabling the products to store better. Once the containers arrive, we open the boxes and inspect a sample of each type of vegetable and fruit.”
Some produce are lower risk than others. Carrots, for example, are medium, as opposed to high risk peaches, plums and clementines which have the potential to carry varied species of fruit fly. Potatoes are also high risk to import as they can contain diseases picked up in South Africa.
Jill said that all fresh produce that arrives from South Africa must carry a Perishable Products Export Control Board Certificate (PPECB), which means products come passed for export with the same standards as used for Britain and Japan. Crops are grown by certified farmers who abide by a strict regime of high levels of inspection for diseases.
Once samples have been collected from the refrigerated containers (situated near the customs buildings) they are taken to the inspection room where every single piece of fruit or vegetable in the sample is checked.
If a quarantine pest is found, the inspection team are faced with two options – to destroy the entire lot of that fruit or vegetable, or go through every single item in the lot. This is the preferred option. However, in instances where the pest cannot be seen and a 100% inspection therefore can’t be done, all of the lot has to be destroyed, at the risk and cost of the retailer.
With the winter season produce – mostly medium risk – it takes us about 5 hours to complete the inspection, once the produce is landed. The product is then available to retailers.
“Retailers who import products to the Island all have import licenses. It is extremely important to have all the relevant documentation in order to verify fresh products imported and to enable us to stop new pests and diseases from coming in.”
A quarantine pest was found in the last voyage. The team found a caterpillar in a sample of the sweetcorn, tentatively identified as the Spotted Stemborer which, isn’t something found on Island.
“We then did a 100% inspection of the sweetcorn and found a total of 4 cobs infested. The caterpillars have been taken to the biocontrol unit to breed up into adults for identification.”
Jill explained that due to the nature of the Island – although levels of invasive species are quite low – there is a high risk to the unique biodiversity on St Helena. The Biosecurity and Pest Control team plays a vital role in safeguarding St Helena’s environment.
18 June 2013