Scientists say there is hope in fight against Xylella

Around 350 plant health specialists have attended a Xylella conference in Corsica, discussing how science can help find solutions to the plant pest that is set to cause £42bn-worth of environmental and economic damage across Europe.

The latest results from European research projects dealing with X. fastidiosa were be presented, in particular the final results from the Horizon 2020 POnTE project. 

The plant disease is advancing from the Mediterranean and is present in Corsica, as well as Italy, France and Iberia.

The programme included:

  • Biology and pathogenicity.
  • Detection and surveillance.
  • Ecology, epidemiology and modelling.
  • Insect vectors.
  • Risk assessment and assessment of impacts (including environmental and socio-economic impact).
  • Sustainable management strategies.

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plant health panel chair Claude Bragard said: "The whole EU territory is at risk from Xylella fastidiosa, and the more the scientific community works together on this issue, the quicker we’ll be to find solutions to tackle this pest.” 

New EFSA methodology shows for example that the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, the pest with the highest impact on agricultural crops, including fruit, could cause annual production losses of €5.5 billion, affecting 70% of the EU production value of older olive trees (over 30 years old) and 35% value of younger ones, in a scenario of the bacterium spreading across the entire EU. An Italian study in 2018 found €1.2 billion of damage.

Actress Helen Mirren is narrating a Defra-funded campaign warning about the disease, which is yet to reach Britain. A UK Plant Health Assurance Scheme is being piloted but costs, consumer apathy and take-up have been identified by Forest Research as barriers by growers and garden centres.

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