What is Xylella fastidiosa?

Xylella fastidiosa is one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide, causing a variety of diseases, with huge economic impact for agriculture. It was reported for the first time in the Union territory by the Italian Authorities in October 2013, in the region of Apulia, affecting mainly olive groves. Based on official survey activities, the rest of the Italian territory is still considered to be free from the bacterium.

Subsequently, in July 2015, the French Authorities reported the first outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa in their territory, in Corsica, and later in France mainland. The bacterium present in the respective Member States has a different epidemiology confirming that the source of infection is different.

Xylella fastidiosa is regulated in the EU as quarantine organism under Council Directive 2000/29/EC on protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community. As such, the introduction of this organism into, and its spreading within all member states, shall be banned. The plant health directive provides member states with the legal obligations to abide by, once the organism is known to be present. Irrespective of the symptoms, all necessary measures to eradicate it, or if that is impossible, to inhibit its further spread, must be taken.

The bacterium lives in the plant xylem tissue and it is normally spread by spittlebugs, cicadas and sharpshooters feeding with the plant xylem. Philaenus spumarius, commonly known as meadow froghopper, a spittlebug very common, polyphagous and abundant on olive trees is known to be the vector responsible for the transmission of the bacterium in Apulia, while investigations are still ongoing to confirm the type of insect vectors in France. Symptoms associated with the presence of Xylella fastidiosa in plants vary broadly and can lead to plant death within a limited number of years, depending on the host plant species, the severity of the infection and the climatic conditions.

Based on all facts and information, we should, but especially the government, to realize that serious problem, that pounding on our door, if it has not already done. There is an urgent need to inform, to prevent and design how to respond to this very serious illness that can literally destroy olive oil trees and crops. The problem is significant and it is happening now.

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