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Olive blight spreads to France

olivetreeWith the devastation of olive trees in southern Italy, European agricultural experts are gathering in Brussels to develop an action plan to save the continent’s olive trees.

The meeting was called after leaf scorch (xylella fastidiosa) was found in four ornamental coffee bushes at Rungis, an international food market on the outskirts of Paris, a fortnight ago.

The plants had been imported from Honduras via the Netherlands, the French ministry of agriculture said.

This set fears alight that the insect-spread bacterium could start to wipe out the olive groves in southern France and Corsica. Thousands of hectares have already been destroyed in southern Italy.

The French government is demanding measures in Europe to try to prevent the spread of the disease, including widespread testing for the bacterium and common rules for destroying and burning infected plants and trees.

The French ministry of agriculture has banned imports of certain plants from contaminated regions of Italy and south America.

It also has called for funds such as Portugal and Spain have had. “European funds are available in the event of plant diseases. In 2012, Europe made €12 million available to save threatened pine trees in Portugal and Spain. We’re confident there’ll be a rapid decision, everyone wants a solution,” an official said.

The xylella fastidiosa bacterium has been known to attack some 300 plant species, including fruit trees such as almond and plums. It blocks water movement in plants, making leaves and then whole branches fall off.

It devastated vineyards in the US in the 1990s and hit citrus trees as well.

The French well remember the ‘great wine blight’ in the 1800s when the phylloxera aphid decimated vineyards and paralysed the wine industry.

France’s olive industry turns over €100,000 annually while its wine exports are worth €7.6 billion with nearly 56,000 people employed.

Tragically, there is no known treatment of the disease or ways known to protect plants.



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