BRITAIN'S seed potato industry is bracing itself as eight new amendments to its assurance scheme come into force on October 1.

The certification scheme, Safe Haven, has recently been reviewed and updated to cover areas such as closer monitoring of water use and crop storage. Administered by Red Tractor, the UK’s largest food standards scheme, Safe Haven aims to protect against any pest or disease that can be imported or introduced by seed.

Head of export trade development at AHDB, Patrick Hughes, said: “We welcome these changes as they reinforce the value of the scheme in supporting individual businesses, the long term health of the British potato industry and protecting the global reputation of British seed potatoes.

“It is important to regularly review the standards to ensure they are fit for purpose and keep pace with the changing environment we operate in.”

The seed potato sector is important for the British potato industry as a whole as seed potatoes are a valuable export commodity. Seed and fresh potatoes exported from the UK between July 2019 and June 2020 were worth just under £113 million, with seed potatoes representing a large proportion of this figure.

Mr Hughes added: “We work closely with important export destinations for British seed and know that our customers in countries such as Egypt, Israel, and Thailand recognise the standards and the security Safe Haven offers.

“Safe Haven has always been an extremely important export tool and it will play an increased role after the transition period for exiting the EU ends, safeguarding existing markets and helping us to develop future opportunities with international markets.”

There are three key areas of emphasis in the updated standards:

• Enhanced traceability controls to allow for informed decisions to be made and to flush disease-affected stock out of the system.

• Water: identified as a key vector for the transfer of bacterial pathogens, particularly Brown Rot and Dickeya species. While irrigation of seed potatoes is relatively unusual, selection and management of water is a key risk-reduction step.

• Seed storage: identified as an important element of the process and an area of particular risk.

Director of Caledonia Potatoes and a member of the Safe Haven scheme, Robert Doig, said: “The Safe Haven certification scheme offers growers and their customers' valuable backstop insurance. It provides the reassurance that the seed they purchase will be healthy and disease-free and is globally recognised as being a guarantee of quality assurance.”