Italy under fire for failing to contain spread of deadly olive tree bacteria
The European Commission is accusing Italy of allowing a deadly bacteria to spread.
Scientists say that if they can't stop it the disease could spread across Europe killing not just olive but other trees as well.
Alison Abbott is a European correspondent for the journal Nature. Abbott spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how she and her colleagues discovered that the Italian government is failing to monitor and contain the disease.
"Very little has been done — much less than should have been done. And time and bacteria wait for no man, right?"- Alison Abbott, European correspondent for the journal Nature
Carol Off: Alison, this sounds like a serious threat to the Italian olive industry and beyond. What's the European Commission accusing the Italians of having done?
CO: We'll get into the details of why this isn't being contained but just tell us a bit about what Xylella does to the trees.
AA: Xylella penetrates the sap of the tree. It gets very deep into the tree — into the sort of blood system, so to speak, of the tree. There it expands and physically blocks the flow of fluids through the tree. So the tree, at the top, just simply dies of thirst.
CO: And how widespread do you think this is, at this point, among the olive trees?
CO: But it's not happening. It's not being prevented — is that right?
CO: Why do you think they are not being more aggressive?
AA: The small holding farmers that have small olive groves there, they stand to lose everything if their trees are cut down. So the protesters are in large part saying we don't know it's Xylella. Why are you cutting down our trees? Why are you doing this to control something we don't believe in? The scientists have actually proven that it's Xylella but protesters say there are other options. Why is that important? Because Xylella is incurable. You have no hope. But if you hope against hope that actually maybe it's a fungus that is causing this disease, maybe something else that you can cure, and then you don't have to cut them down.
So these are the sort of emotional factors that are leading to this very crazy situation. Populist politicians are siding with these emotional arguments and it has to be said the legal system in Puglia has also intervened, which has made it extremely difficult. One prosecutor, last year, opened an investigation into the scientists implying that the scientists may have actually caused the disease. [He] also investigated whether Xylella wasn't the cause and put a stop to all uprooting of trees while his investigation continued. The accusations that are being investigated are obviously completely ridiculous. Nonetheless, it's made authorities a little bit worried. Should they chop the trees down supposing the court decides something else? So far, very little has been done — much less than should have been done. And time and bacteria wait for no man, right?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Alison Abbott.