Phytosanitary Systems Approaches

What are systems approaches, when should they be used, and how can we optimise their design?

Phytosanitary systems approaches are a way to address biosecurity risks that may arise from domestic or international trade of agriculture or horticulture produce.

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) recognises systems approaches as one of four options for pest risk management that may enable market access. The four pathways are:

  • Demonstrate that pests of concern are not present in the place of production for the traded commodity – commonly known as ‘Area freedom’
  • Demonstrate that the traded commodity is not a host for pests of concern – also known as ‘non-host status’
  • Apply a single-point, post-harvest phytosanitary treatment – also known as an ‘end point treatment’ or
  • Apply a ‘systems approach’ of multiple phytosanitary measures

The IPPC defines phytosanitary systems approach as the integration of different phytosanitary measures, at least two of which act independently, that cumulatively reduce the risk of pest and pathogen movement to the appropriate level of phytosanitary protection.

International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) are standards adopted under the IPPC and guide the development of protocols under each of the four pest risk management options. Standards that are most relevant for systems approaches are:

  • ISPM14 which outlines the use of integrated measures in a systems approach for pest risk management.
  • ISPM35 which provides guidelines for developing a systems approach for pest risk management of fruit flies (Tephritidae).

In some cases, systems approaches enable agricultural, horticultural, nursery or timber products to be exported without an endpoint treatment. This allows producers to capitalise on their good farm practices and integrated pest management systems, and may help reduce the use of pesticides and fumigants.

When systems approaches might offer a good solution

Systems approaches could be considered in a range of situations, such as when:

  • endpoint treatments are not available, expensive, affect quality or shelf-life, prolong the time to market, or diminish the market value of the produce
  • endpoint treatments provide more protection than might actually be required, for example, for lower-risk or uncommon pests
  • chemical treatments such as sprays, dips or fumigants may be withdrawn from the market, or access is restricted, or are not accepted by trading partners
  • the pest pressure, exposure or susceptibility of the produce is low and management practices throughout the production systems minimise the risk of pest infestation or movement

Where systems approaches are used for market access

Phytosanitary systems approaches are used to address biosecurity risks from the trade of fresh fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, timber and live plants. They can also be used to reduce the risk of pests being moved on carriers such as vehicles, soil and processed goods.

While there are many systems approach-based protocols in place for international trade, there is significant opportunity to increase their application. Currently, systems approaches tend to be applied to pests that are considered to be lower risk. A well-designed systems approach-based protocol, however, has the potential to deliver an acceptable level of protection for high-risk pests and pathogens. It is important to note that the importing jurisdiction will determine the level of protection they consider appropriate to protect human, animal or plant life or health within their territory, and the required level of efficacy for a phytosanitary protocol.

Our 2020 review of 60 publicly available protocols used for horticulture trade found that systems approaches are applied for a wide range of pests, mostly on citrus, solanaceae, pomefruit and avocado fruits. Systems approach-based protocols have been accepted by many countries, including the USA, Taiwan and Japan. Systems approaches are widely used to support domestic (interstate) trade in Australia, with protocols in place for pests of citrus, blueberry, strawberry, solanaceae, table grape, mango, stonefruit, and custard apple. Further details can be found in our published review, here:

Why standardised methods and tools are needed

A key limitation to the uptake of phytosanitary systems approaches has been a lack of agreed, rigorous methods to underpin the design, and demonstrate the efficacy of, combined phytosanitary measures – particularly compared to end-point treatments.

As a result, trading partners may have poor confidence in proposed systems approach-based protocols and, therefore, are less willing to accept them.

Our research develops and tests methods and tools that guide the design of phytosanitary measures and validate their effectiveness when combined in a systems approach. With improved supporting evidence, systems approach-based pathways may be more widely accepted to enable market access.

How our research helps to advance systems approaches

We are building on research efforts from around the world to contribute to the development, testing and harmonisation of the concepts and methods that underpin phytosanitary systems approaches – and phytosanitary risk management, more generally.

The standardised methodologies developed through this research can be used to:

  • Categorise and quantify how individual phytosanitary measures contribute to reducing risks
  • Test the effectiveness of existing or emerging practices and technologies in production systems and supply chains to reduce risks
  • Determine an efficient mix of phytosanitary measures to manage pests of concern
  • Validate the efficacy of the selected mix of measures, using qualitative and quantitative models
  • Develop comprehensive data packages that support proposed phytosanitary risk management measures or systems

We are also working on tools and quantitative models to bring stronger rigour to key elements of systems approaches such as pest monitoring programs, insect trapping densities and sampling protocols.

By applying consistent methods, biosecurity stakeholders can build greater confidence in phytosanitary systems approaches.

Opportunities for innovation in systems approaches

An important benefit of systems approaches is that they can enable risk-reducing activities that are already occurring in production systems and supply chains to be formally recognised.

The review of systems approach protocols currently in use for horticulture trade showed that most follow similar formats and use well-established, well accepted measures such as pest monitoring with consequence, field hygiene, calendar spraying, and visual or biometric inspection of fruit. Fewer protocols included measures such as quality grading of fruit or post-harvest conditions such as cold storage.

Opportunities for innovation and improvement identified in the review include:

  • None of the protocols reviewed incorporated newer technologies such as inline infrared or optical scanning that could be harnessed as a method for non-destructive detection of insects in fruit. This indicates that future protocols could incorporate a wider range of measures and apply new or emerging technologies or innovations.
  • Outcomes-based or risk-based measures were rarely used, such as providing an option for growers to determine how best to keep pest populations under specified thresholds. There is significant scope to develop protocols that are more consistent with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles and enable growers to apply pest control measures informed by monitoring results. By shifting away from prescribed pest control measures, such as ‘calendar sprays’, systems approaches could drive a reduction in pesticide use.