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European Parliament Member Paolo De Castro

Emergency E.U. funds are said to have been promised to help limit the spread of a plant dis­ease killing olive trees in Italy.

And the Italian gov­ern­ment says it is set­ting up a task force on the out­break, believed to be due to the bac­terium Xylella fas­tidiosa.

According to Italian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Paolo De Castro (S&D) and Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE), about 8,000 hectares of olive groves in the Salento area of Puglia are already affected and about 600,000 olive trees will need to be destroyed.

Disease spread by insect

In a writ­ten ques­tion to the European Commission on con­tain­ment mea­sures, De Castro said the bac­terium causes foliage to dry out and wood to darken, even­tu­ally killing the infected tree.

The dis­ease was “spread­ing very rapidly, pos­ing an eco­nomic and envi­ron­men­tal threat to an entire region where olive pro­duc­tion is the sta­ple agri­cul­tural activ­ity and cen­turies-old olive trees form an ines­timably valu­able part of the land­scape and nat­ural her­itage.”

“The dis­ease, which is believed to be car­ried by the leafhop­per (Cicadellidae), has not yet been prop­a­gated fur­ther afield and still less affected olive trees in the rest of Europe, he said.

He asked what finan­cial and other mea­sures the Commission planned to “con­tain the rapid prop­a­ga­tion of the dis­ease.”

“Serious threat to European olive grow­ers”

Silvestris said it was the first appear­ance in Europe of the plant pathogen, which experts con­sid­ered “a seri­ous threat to European olive grow­ers, given the pace at which the dis­ease is spread­ing.”

Large-scale prun­ing of olive trees to remove parts dried out by the dis­ease is under­way in the area between Gallipoli and Ugento in the Salento region, under the coor­di­na­tion of the Puglia regional author­i­ties and pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions, he said.

Among other mea­sures he called for money for an emer­gency pro­gram of sci­en­tific research and plant health mea­sures, and a European crop pathogen genome data­base to cen­tral­ize infor­ma­tion on bac­te­ria and par­a­sites.

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Xylella fas­tidiosa (Photo: University of Georgia)

As reported last week, fel­low Italian MEP Raffaele Baldassarre (PPE) has also called for urgent aid.

Olive oil from Puglia still “excel­lent qual­ity”

Olive Oil Times has yet to be able to con­firm reports in the Italian press that European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs Tonio Borg has promised emer­gency aid.

Italian media also said that Italy’s Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo had promised a task force on the dis­ease which would be assisted by the arrival of two experts from the University of California.

Pierce’s dis­ease, caused by Xylella fas­tidiosa, was dis­cov­ered in 1892 by Californian Newton B. Pierce on grapes in California.

De Girolamo said in a press release that the dis­ease was not affect­ing the olive fruit and that olive oil from Puglia con­tin­ued to be of “excel­lent qual­ity” and one of the health­i­est foods for humans.

Panic, con­fu­sion, pes­simism

The out­break has caused some panic and con­fu­sion among olive grow­ers as to the true causes of the dis­ease and why it has spread fast in recent months.

It is also pro­vok­ing pes­simism among some pro­duc­ers, such as expressed by a farmer in one forum who said it sounded like “in the next five years we“ll see a col­lapse of the olive trees of Salento.”

Adding that though “for years many olive groves have been in a state of neglect,” it would “break my heart to know that many of the giants of Salento will dis­ap­pear in the com­ing years…I can’t imag­ine my land with­out olive trees,” he said.



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