Italy should remove all plants in Lecce which are infected with Xylella Fastidiosa - a bacterium which has hit the province’s olive trees - the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (Paff) said on Tuesday.
While Italy first told the EU of an outbreak of the bacterium in October 2013, it has recently spread to neighbouring Brindisi and prompted fears it could affect other European countries.
As a result, Italy is now required to test all plants surrounding the infected ones, in a 20km zone adjacent to both Brindisi and Taranto.
Under the eradication plans, any plants caught within 100m of an infestation must be removed and destroyed, even if they are healthy.
But such measures were strongly criticized by Roberto Moncalvo, president of Italian agricultural group Coldiretti.
“It’s absurd and unacceptable to think of eradicating all the infected plants and those ‘hosted’ at a distance of 100m, leaving aside the state of health,” he said.
The destruction of Italy’s olive trees “could cause unacceptable economic and environmental damage” and wipe out “hundreds of years of history”, Moncalvo added.
The strict rules are, however, seen as necessary in order to stop Xylella Fastidiosa - which is also potentially dangerous to grapevine and citrus - spreading across Italy and EU borders.
“The lack of effective treatments to cure the plants once they get infected, the broad range of plants species known to be susceptible, as well as the high probability of spread and establishment further in the EU, make this bacterium a very serious threat to the EU agricultural sector,” the Paff said, giving its backing to plans proposed by the European Commission.
The EU’s decision follows earlier emergency measures taken in February and July last year.
Additional new plans require EU countries to inform Brussels of new outbreaks, carry out official surveys and quickly mark out areas which suffer infestation.
Plants travelling to and within the EU will also be closely monitored. A specific ban has been ordered on coffee plants from Honduras and Costa Rica, deemed by the EU to be at high risk of Xylella Fastidiosa.