The potato cyst nematodes Globodera pallida and G. rostochiensis are listed in the EU Plant Health Directive 2000/29/EC and are also subject to the new EU Council Directive 2007/33/EC on the control of potato cyst nematodes, requiring unilateral suppression of these pests in Europe. At the same time there is also pressure to increase world trade in potatoes. Such pressure has to be balanced by the risks involved in the associated spread of these pests and subsequent problems in management. Populations of the potato cyst nematodes from outside Europe, in particular South America, which is considered the origin of G. pallida and G. rostochiensis, pose a risk to those European countries where limited genetic variability of these nematode species has been recorded. The development and usage of resistant cultivars under such conditions has formed a pivotal role in integrated management programmes in Europe. Molecular studies have shown that populations of G. pallida and G. rostochiensis from South America have a different genetic composition from those in Europe. The introduction of such populations would pose a threat to the use of resistant cultivars as a major tool in reducing the potential spread and damage caused by these species. At present, an inability to link precisely genetic variability to the virulence characteristics of a specific nematode population, and quickly identify the virulence status of intercepted populations for inspection purposes, strengthens the case for using plant health legislation to prevent their introduction.