On Thursday 15 October 2020, the Belgian Scientific Plant Health Symposium - PROTECTING PLANTS, PROTECTING LIFE was held online.

This symposium, was organised jointly by the FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain and Belgium's regional authorities, in the framework of the International Year of Plant Health. This virtual symposium attracted more than 370 registrations. Around 300 participants attended this virtual symposium.

One of the objectives of the International Year of Plant Health is to mobilise all actors in society to better cooperate in protecting plants from the spread of devastating pests and to promote responsible practices that limit their propagation.​ Scientific research and innovation, as well as political will, play a key role in moving towards the achievement of these goals.

The organisation of this event within the IYPH2020 ad-hoc working group of the Interministerial Conference on Agriculture led to a strong representation and involvement of the competent ministers and helped to put plant health on the political agenda.
The Belgian Scientific Plant Health Symposium - PROTECTING PLANTS, PROTECTING LIFE highlighted various research projects, particularly in Belgium, that support plant health and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and brought together the main parties involved.
The diversity of research was highlighted, both at federal and regional levels, taking into account the interweaving of research in Belgium with international research. 

The symposium demonstrated, if need be, the imperative for plant health research and stressed once again the importance of international cooperation.

We invite you to watch or rewatch the symposium recording and to consult the presentations by clicking on the titles of the different interventions below.  You will also find the answers to the questions asked during the symposium which could unfortunately not be answered live due to time constraints.

  Welcome speech  
Mr. Tom Auwers, Head of the FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment 
Three axes of research to meet the challenges  
Mr. Frank Vandenbroucke, Federal Minister of Health and Social Affairs, represented by Mr. Tom Auwers.
Why we have to put the emphasis on plant health now!
Ms. Hilde Crevits, Vice-Minister-President of the Government of Flanders, Flemish Minister for Economy, Innovation, Work, Social Economy and Agriculture
Plant health, an essential prerequisite for quality agriculture
Mr. Willy Borsus, Vice-President of the Walloon Region, Minister of Economy, Research and Innovation, New Technologies, Agriculture, Urban and Spatial Planning, IFAPME and Competence Centres
  International Year of Plant Health – objectives and activities in Belgium
Mr. Lieven Van Herzele, Head of the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO), FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment 
  Cartography of plant health research in Belgium 
Dr. Ria Nouwen, Scientific Advisor Contractual Research, FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment 
  Plant health research in the context of food security and poverty reduction.
SDG 1 “No poverty”  
SDG 2 “Zero hunger” 
  Dr. Kris De Jonghe (ILVO) and Prof. Sébastien Massart (ULiège)
  Plant health research in the context of safe and efficient trade.
SDG 8 “Decent work and economic growth”
SDG 17 “Partnerships for the goals”  
  • Fighting new organisms: the new normal?
Prof. Dany Bylemans (pcfruit - KU Leuven) and Prof. Wim Wesemael (ILVO - UGent)
  Dr. Jan Van Autreve, Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC)
  Plant health research in the context of biosafety and environmental protection.
SDG 13  “Climate action”  
SDG 15  “Life on land”
  • Prevention strategies against new and emerging diseases and pests
Dr. Jochem Bonte (ILVO) and Dr. Anne Chandelier (CRA-W)
  Prof. Pieter Spanoghe (UGent)
  Closing words
Mr. Philippe Mortier, Director-General of the DG Animals, Plants and Foodstuffs, FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment

Questions - réponses (anglais)

What has been the experience with Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus ?
As a diagnostic and research lab we prepared well for this emergent threat. Our NPPO included this pathogen in its control plan and has been surveying in Belgium for some time now. Many of those samples were analysed in our lab. We are currently also preparing to start an extensive survey in a project, funded by the FPS Health. (Prof. Kris De Jonghe)
Vaccine which mechanism in plants?
Vaccination in plants exists, also in practice. A good example of this in Belgium is the cross-protection which is common practice in the management of Pepino mosaic virus in our tomato greenhouses. Actually, the principle is that a host, in this case tomato, is infected by a closely related strain of the virulent virus. Mostly this is a mild strain inducing only very little of even no symptoms on the host and by its presence it prevents an infection of a more severe strain of the virus that would result in serious economic losses. In case of Pepino mosaic virus, the formulation containing the mild strain can be simply sprayed over the crop. (Prof. Kris De Jonghe)
We often use phenology etc. to determine invasiveness/impact. Could we use the genomic profiles of viruses to highlight possible areas that could contribute to a more invasive/virulent virus ahead of looking for symptoms? I.e. predicting if a newly found virus could be detrimental before seeing if it impacts plants?
The genome of the viruses could predict the transmission mode and the potential host range which are two key information for risk analysis. The symptom prediction (and their severity) is particularly difficult to model with the existing knowledge today. Indeed, the symptom severity is also related to the plant genotype, not only the virus isolate. Ex post, it is possible to use the genome to predict the symptom severity caused by a virus based on previous observation (bioassay or field observation). Sometimes, a single mutation confers the aggressiveness to a virus. Ex ante, the observation of symptoms on the plant from which the virus has been discovered is one important information to take into account as well as its association with symptomatic plants at the initial location (and the evaluation of symptom severity): if the virus is always present with symptomatic plants and absent in healthy plants, it raised the risk for this virus (and such biological information can be combined with genome modeling to fine tune the risk prediction). (Prof. Kris De Jonghe)
Is there a link between viruses in plant health and food safety?
Not to my knowledge, we are eating numerous plant virus particles when consuming plants but there is no evidence of an impact on our health or on the food safety so far. So, for plant viruses, there is no risk at all.

There is one remark, plants can play a role in the transmission of animal or human viruses. However, the transmission of zoonotic pathogens via food is common for many bacterial pathogens, eg. Salmonella or Campylobacter spp., yet is quite uncommon for viruses, with a few exceptions (eg. infectous Hepatitis). (Prof. Kris De Jonghe)

 What would be a good way to monitor a stink bug inside of a  greenhouse?
Promising results for monitoring are reported with the aggregation pheromone of Halymorpha halys (Acebes-Dorian et al., 2018. Insects 9:82), which can be applied on a glued surface or trap. A lot of research is focusing on the optimal trap design but no clear differentiation of monitoring results right now. Other options are less selective but since a greenhouse is a closed environment, probably worth trying: 1/ a light trap and 2/ beans as a sentinel plant. (Prof. Dany Bylemans)
How can research  be done on Q-status organism? Is there an EU- document how to take action when Q-organism is found equal for all EU-members ?

Several approaches for research on Q-organisms can be envisaged, in specialized laboratories or, if needed, in confined research accommodation:

Development and validation of diagnostics Development and validation of survey strategies, trapping techniques, sampling protocols or modelling Research on the epidemiology under local conditions Determining the status (absence / presence) of an organism in the country, by performing an extensive survey. This is one of the main elements for an organism to qualify as an Q pest after pest risk analysis (criteria article 3 of the EU Plant Health regulation). An important side aspect of actively looking for pests is to educate and to raise also awareness by researchers, growers, ... If the pest is shown to be absent from the territory, transnational cooperation with regions where a pest is already present is an option. Examples of research activities in this field can be find in the project portfolio of the Contractual Research unit.
The new EU Plant Health regulation (EU) 2016/2031 sets the framework for  the steps to be taken when a Q organism is detected. There is compulsory notification (art 11-15-16) at different levels and the member state has to take all phytosanitary measures to eradicate the organism (art 18) conform the principles mentioned in annex II of 2016/2031. Demarcated areas have to be established and a yearly report on these areas and measures taken has to been send yearly to the COM and Member states. For certain Q organisms, these measures are harmonized in specific legislation (cf. art 28 of regulation 2016/2031). For the EU priority organisms, contingency plans have to be prepared.
For information, eligibility criteria for contractual research :

General Eligible Not eligible
Plant Health
Research into organisms that are harmful to cultivated and / or wild plants, including quarantine organisms, organisms that are new, unknown or whose dissemination is limited and for which more information is required in the context of future regulation or policy
  • determination of the occurrence, distribution (pest status) and settlement potential
  • study of biology
  • epidemiological research
  • exploring the impact of possible control measures
  • developing new risk assessment aspects or methods
  • development of new methods for sampling and / or diagnosis, identification or quantification
  • risk assessments
  • providing scientific elements for Pest Risk Assessments (PRA)
  • research into quality organisms
  • research into invasive species under Regulation 1143/2014
  • plant breeding research, except when the breeding concerns greater (phytosanitary) disease resistance
  • research into sustainable agriculture, except when it is in the field of phytosanitary policy
  • environmental research, except when it is in the field of phytosanitary policy
  • biodiversity research, except when it is in the field of phytosanitary policy
  • routine checks on compliance with existing standards