A deadly bacterium is likely to spread throughout Europe’s olive trees.
Xylella fastidiosa, also called olive leaf scorch, is destroying ancient olive groves in the Apulia region of southern Italy. Several thousand hectares of olive trees are now affected.
It is “very likely” to spread to other areas of Europe, according to a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The bacteria halt water movement in trees, resulting in yellowed leaves which then fall off followed by the branches.
“The consequences are considered to be major because yield losses and other damage would be high and require costly control measures,” the report said.
Xylella is common in the Americas and the Middle East. It could have arrived in Europe by infected insects which travelled with food shipments.
The bacteria are spread by insects and different strains can attack a host of other plants, such as oak, citrus, almond, peach, and oleander.
It is difficult to ward off its advance because insecticides have their own environmental impacts, EFSA say. Nevertheless, the report recommends specific insecticide treatment for imported plants along with the eradication of infected insect populations.
Last November, the commission earmarked €7.5m for fighting several pests, including Xylella. Some €751,000 of this went to Italy, with the Italian government providing the same amount. The EU will consider new funding to fight the bacteria at the January meeting.
It has already been a tough year for olive growers in Spain and Italy as harvests have been poor because of other pests and bad weather. The two countries produce 70% of Europe’s olives.