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Path cleared to chop down Italy’s olive groves

olivesTens of thousands of Italy’s infected olive trees may now be culled after a ruling from the European Court of Justice.

The deadly bacteria Xyella fastidiosa has been attacking olive trees since 2013 and the infection has been spreading. There are concerns that it could reach other parts of Italy as well as Mediterranean countries, including Portugal.

The court has ruled that the European Commission can order member states “to remove all plants capable of being infected by Xylella fastidiosa, even if there are no symptoms of infection, when such plants are in the vicinity of plans already affected”.

The measure, it said, was proportionate to the objective of protecting plant health. It added that it is justified by the precautionary principle.

The Commission has been putting pressure on Italy to destroy infected trees as well as those within 100 metres. But Italian authorities put a halt to the felling in December, but not before many thousands had already been cut down.

The court ruling held that the Commission had been acting lawfully in making its request for destruction of the trees. So the stage appears to be set for the eradication of more olive trees.

Puglia in the south has so far been the worst hit region. There some 10% of its 11 million olive trees, some very ancient, could be removed.

Xyella fastidiosa is not harmful to humans but slowly takes the lives of the trees it infects. The progressive nature of the disease means olives will still be produced on branches which have not yet died off but it is only a matter of time before the tree is dead and all production ended.