The NFU has welcomed new government proposals totemporarily introduce a flat-rate inspection fee of £27 for all imports of young plants, regardless of their destination.

Currently, for imported young plants destined to be grown at UK nurseries, the inspection fee is around £200. Yet for the same plants sent straight to retail, which may be grown further by consumers, the inspection fee is around £20.

NFU argued that this discrepancy risks retailers sourcing more imported plants, rather than UK-grown products.

In addition, imports of young plants destined for nurseries are currently subject to a 100 per cent inspection level. This is compared to a 5-10 per cent inspection level for the same plants destined for retail.

In its response to a Defra consultation on the subject, the NFU said the change to inspection fees would make the system fairer for growers.

NFU horticulture adviser Christine McDowell said: “Defra’s proposal to introduce a flat rate inspection fee would deliver greater fairness in the inspection regime and would save growers thousands of pounds in fees.

“While it is only proposed as a temporary solution, until a full plant imports risk assessment can be completed, it has the support of growers who welcome what they see as Defra levelling the playing field for UK growers.”

She added: “The NFU has worked closely with Defra on this issue over the past year, highlighting how the current fee structure could damage domestic production and by providing a competitive advantage to imported plants and produce. We are pleased to see Defra put forward this proposal, which has our full support.”

In a separate consultation, the NFU reiterated to Defra the importance of an inspection regime based on data and science around the probability of a pest or disease being found in an imported product.

Defra is in the process of collecting data that will better enable inspections to be set at appropriate, risk-based levels.

The NFU argues that UK growers should be given biosecurity ‘credit’ not just for the processes they have undertaken in producing a finished plant, but also for the processes they will undertake in growing on imported propagation material.

“The frequency of risk-targeted plant health import inspection should consider and reflect that production is happen under GB regulatory control, and the long-term relationships between GB growers and GB plant health services,” the NFU said.