Nompumelelo Magwaza

AMID the debate about the impact of citrus black spot on the European citrus industry, world experts have found no evidence that the disease can spread on citrus products without leaves as a pathway.

In a summary report released yesterday, an expert panel of professionals in the plant health field from South Africa, US, Brazil, Argentina and Australia, found the fungal disease had a wide global distribution, but was only known to occur in summer rainfall citrus production areas and not in areas with a Mediterranean climate.

Citrus black spot is endemic to South Africa, but unable to survive in Europe. This might leave a sour taste in the mouth of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has introduced more stringent sanitary measures to guard against citrus black spot.

It is believed the EFSA was aware of the report but chose to ignore some of the scientific findings, confirming suspicions that the EU was engaging in protectionist practices.

After Spain and Turkey, South Africa was the largest exporter of citrus to world markets in 2012. The R4 billion industry has been fighting the black spot issue since 2010.

The EFSA believes that fruit with citrus black spot could be a threat to EU orchards.

Early this year the local industry was subjected to more stringent criteria, such as recording pre- and post-harvest chemical treatments, mandatory registration of packing houses and on-site official inspections at citrus orchards.

The experts said they found responses to the issue of citrus black spot to be erroneous and in conflict with the available body of scientific evidence.

The EFSA had placed a draft of its 2013 scientific opinion on the risk of citrus black spot for its territory on record for public comment. Comments were also invited from the scientific community and stakeholders, on the basis of which the expert panel was formed.

Another consideration central to assessing the risk included the fact that despite more than 20 years of large-scale citrus exports from countries where citrus black spot was endemic to citrus-producing regions in southern Europe, the disease had not become established in areas with a Mediterranean climate.

The expert panel said the EFSA’s responses did not address the essence of the technical and scientific inputs. “In some cases, the EFSA states that it has considered the comments, but there is no indication that it has done so, or has changed its position based on the input and in some cases the authority’s responses do not relate directly to the comment provided,” it said.

It went on to say that the EFSA operated on the premise that it had a better understanding of citrus black spot than the expert panel members.