Italian forestry officials have begun felling infected olive trees in the Salento region of Apulia, southern Italy, following a controversial proposal by the European Commission (EC) to cut down 11M olive trees in the region to contain the spread of the deadly Xylella fastidiosa bacterium.

(Thursday, 23 April) Italian forestry officials have begun felling infected olive trees in the Salento region of Apulia, southern Italy, following a controversial proposal by the European Commission (EC) to cut down 11M olive trees in the region to contain the spread of the deadly Xylella fastidiosa bacterium.

The bacterium – which is spread by insects and has no known cure – has spread over 74,000 acres (29,600ha) in the region. Infected trees dry out and die.

A study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has warned that Xylella fastidiosa could spread from southern Italy to olive groves in other countries in the European Union (EU) and cause significant crop damage and loss, the Olive Oil Times said.

A meeting on 26-27 March of the EU Plant Health Committee failed to reach consensus on the best way to contain the spread of the bacterium.

France and Spain supported a hard-line approach, fearing contamination of their own olive groves, vineyards and even citrus trees, the Olive Oil Times report said.

Italy – the world’s second largest exporter of olive oil – is opposed to the drastic measures proposed by the EC, resisting destruction of centuries-old olive trees amid concerns that the region would become arid and the area’s tourism affected, while questioning the effectiveness of uprooting trees.

The area identified for tree felling stretches between Lecce and Brindisi over 20,000 acres (8,000ha).

Apulia is one of Italy’s largest producing region of olive oil, accounting for 40% of the country’s output last year, Olive Oil Times said.

Some EU member states have called for a wider ban on plant exports from the region and a larger buffer zone to be treated with pesticides to limit the spread of Xylella fastidiosa.

France has already announced a ban on the import of vegetables and plants from Apulia.