Olive oil industry under increasing threat from ‘olive leprosy’ | Europe

One of southern Europe’s most important staples, olive oil, is under pressure from a potentially deadly disease that new research shows could infect nearly all of the productive areas of Italy, Greece and Spain.

Economic losses could be as high as €5bn over the next 50 years for Italy, where at least 1m trees have already died, if nothing is done to halt the spread of the disease and olive groves are not replanted, the study found. In Spain, losses could total €17bn over the same period, and Greece could suffer to the tune of about €2bn.

Drastic action would be required to halt the spread, including felling seemingly healthy olive trees. However, if preventive measures are taken, and if orchards can be replanted with resistant strains of olive, the economic impact could be cut to as little as €10m a year in Italy, with proportionally similar benefits in Spain and Greece. The three countries represent 95% of European production.

About 17% of Italy’s olive producing areas are currently estimated to be infected with the disease, olive quick decline syndrome, which has become colloquially known as olive leprosy and has also struck in France, Spain and Portugal. There is no practical cure for the disease, though work to develop resistant varieties is under way.

The researchers analysed to what extent the climatic conditions in each of the three countries was suitable for the spread of Xylella fastidiosa, the bacterium that causes olive quick decline syndrome. The first…

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