lundi 7 août 2017

111- A serious phytosanitary crisis: Xylella fastidiosa


José Miguel Mulet is a professor of biotechnology at the University of Valencia in Spain, and he is also a great scourge of misconceptions about agriculture and food. He gives numerous lectures and has written several books, the most famous of which is "Comer sin miedo" (eating without fear).
He also runs a Spanish blog

In the following article he tells us the true and edifying story of the spread of one of the worst sanitary crises in cultivated plants, probably comparable to the phylloxera crisis on the vineyard in the 19th century.

The olive tree is currently in an unprecedented risk situation for an extremely serious phytosanitary problem. It is a bacterium of which a very virulent strain began to spread in 2013 from southern Italy and is rapidly advancing towards the rest of Europe, provoking the death of millions of trees on his way.

Despite the work of scientists and a European plan to contain outbreaks of the epidemic, the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium is currently out of control in Italy.

Since 2015, the bacterium has been detected in France, first on the island of Corsica and then on the mainland, in Provence.
Since 2016, it has also been detected in Spain, first in the Balearic Islands, and more recently in the Alicante region.
The French and Spanish attacks are currently under control, but no one today, is able to predict the evolution of the epidemic.

Unfortunately, all European olive trees can be attacked and annihilated in a few years if a solution is not quickly found.
Observation of infections shows that some varieties are extremely sensitive and others appear to be more tolerant. There lies the hope of saving the species, and of being able to remake plantations where the bacterium will have killed the olive trees of the sensitive varieties.

Research is working hard to find a solution to at least stabilize the epidemic, but it must be acknowledged that today we are faced with a dead end.
And thousands olive trees die every day thousands in Italy.
France and Spain have chosen to confine the spots thanks to preventive grubbing-up, hoping that these measures will be sufficient.

But how was it possible to get to this disaster?

It is where this drama of still imprecise dimensions becomes a study case.

Here is the complete text, only reduced of some of JM Mulet's comments, which I don't share the tone, even though I agree with the substance, and which don't contribute anything to the story itself.

"A few weeks ago we got the bad news of the detection of the first infections of Xylella fastidiosa in the peninsula, specifically in Guadalest (Alicante). It had arrived in Majorca at the end of 2016. This bacterium, known as the "olive Ebola", obstructs vessels through which the sap flows and the dry plant, affected by Pierce's disease. The bacterium spreads from tree to tree using insects as vectors.

Xylella is endemic to America. It was first identified in California where, periodically, it attacks vineyards. Other varieties of the bacteria can attack lemon trees, peach trees, laurels. It is one of the most feared plant pathogens, which is therefore periodically monitored, and its appearance is monitored in all plant protection centers.

The problem was detected in Italy, specifically in Apulia, in 2013. To situate us on the map, if Italy has the shape of a boot, Apulia is its heel.
Automatically scientists alert on the seriousness of the problem and the European Commission draws up a plan called Silletti plan to contain the epidemic. At present there is no effective treatment against Xylella, so the only solution is to eliminate all trees within a 100-meter radius around the infection site to prevent the insect from transmitting the disease from tree to tree. The European Union releases a budget to implement this plan and continue monitoring. Rapid and early action is the best solution to a crisis of this type.

And that's where the problem lies. Rumors quickly begin to appear. Farmers' groups question that Xylella is the cause of the disease and oppose the felling of trees. Some accuse of the disease, a fungus that can be destroyed without killing the olive trees, others claim that Xylella is easily controllable. Meanwhile scientists determine that the cause of the disease is a very virulent strain of Xylella imported by an ornamental plant from Costa Rica. In parallel, opposition to the Silletti plan is developing, orchestrated, of course, by groups of organic and biodynamic agriculture (...). They suggest that Xylella is part of the ecosystem and that the solution is to do nothing, in order to integrate it, and to use natural fertilizers.
No, I don't invent it. You can read here the proposals they make to curb the Xylella (

The opposition begins to organize and becomes stronger. It convinces politicians and judges. By a surprising and indignant turnaround, ecologists not only succeed in curbing the plan, but they also accuse scientists of having intentionally spread the disease. The prosecutor presents criminal charges against Donato Boscia, of the Institute of Sustainable Vegetal Protection of Bari. According to them, this is a strain introduced for a workshop on Xylella in the Institute itself. The fact that this strain is not that of the disease and does not affect the olive trees seems to have been insufficient. The judge continues the trial and orders a search of the research institute, which had issued the alert, requisitioning computers and research equipment, and curiously curtailing the work of the most qualified scientists to fight the disease.

The outcome of judicial action, paralysis of the shock plan and agroecological techniques of disease control, was that the epidemic spread throughout southern Italy affecting millions of olive trees and 235,000 hectares, and that the disease extended to the Balearic Islands and Guadalest.

Let's hope that our authority knows how to take an example of the Italian catastrophe and won't try to minimize the problem with agroecological techniques. A long time ago, we saw how the phylloxera wiped out the vines, and more recently how the red palm weevil exterminated the palm trees. If we don't urgently start a shock plan, we will have to get used to soybean or sunflower oil, or olive oil from California or South Africa."

This is a very interesting case for the course of events. It clearly shows the risks of ideologizing politics and justice in democracy.

This is an increasing trend in the most industrialized countries, where groups of all kinds develop conspiracy theories, take power through social networks, and manipulate opinion by this same bias.
There is trendy to think that Science sold itself to the multinationals and that these ones seek to dominate the world, to control the food of the planet.

And if the authorities, whether political, police or judicial, don't know how to make the difference, we can arrive at disasters of frightening dimensions.
This is unfortunately the case of this phytosanitary crisis, the consequences of which are likely to be very serious, economically, socially and environmentally.

And we come to this kind of absurdity, which would be laughable if it were not so serious.

Because if you count, between grubbing up, cleaning up, buying of plants, replanting and maintenance up to adulthood, it's at least € 40,000 ($ 50,000) per hectare that must be counted so that these surfaces are again productive in olive oil, not counting the ten years that it will be necessary to wait for the trees grow. Make the count: 235,000 hectares x 40,000 euros, we are talking about more or less 10 billion euros (12 billion dollars) ... until now!!!
And all that, taking into account only the agricultural damage, and assuming that it is possible to replant olive tree soon after the infestation by this bacterium, something that is far from certain.
To that, must be added all bankrupt olive oil structures, packing industries, logistics companies, and the thousands of jobs lost, and I surely forget some. This second total is probably close to the first one.

Who will charge with this terrible damage?
Who is responsible for this disaster before the law and before civil society?

And the culprits of the loss of control of this epidemic, whether unconscious agriculturists, environmental activists, politicians or judges, will they be punished for this crime?

To learn more:

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