On Tuesday, the European Commission urged Italy to adopt more aggressive measures in fighting a tree epidemic that is threatening the Italian olive crop this year. A bacterial disease called Xylella fastidiosa is believed to be causing a blight that endangers the survival of olive trees, citrus trees and vineyards. It is spread by insects that feed on tree sap.
Italy has attempted to segregate 593,000 acres of olive trees in the Puglia Region, where the epidemic has infected millions of trees. The Lecce area, a peninsula in southeaster Italy, suffers the most severe impacts, with an estimated 10% of trees infected. Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil in Europe.
The European Commission is proposing that all impacted trees be destroyed and that a nine mile area be established around each infected grove in which Forbes says no species of plants can be grown that could be infected. Numerous groves infected with the blight are mature and have been cultivated by families for many years.
The bacterial infection is believed to have spread to Italy in an infected shipment of ornamental plants from Costa Rica. The disease also damaged California vineyards and Brazilian citrus groves.
Last July, the European Commission proposed control measures to contain the problem. However, many olive growers believe the cause of the current blight stems from a fungal infection and not the bacterial disease spread by the insects.