NEWS » Scientists under investigation for Olive Grove crisis

Scientists under investigation for Olive Grove crisis

Nine scientists and the public official in charge of containing the epidemic of the Xylella bacterium, ravaging the groves across the Puglia region, are under investigation for a possible role in enabling an outbreak of the disease affecting olive trees.

 

The formal investigation to address responsibilities, ordered by Public prosecutors, came together with an immediate halt to measures put in act to contain the spread of the bacterium, such as chopping down and burning infected and vulnerable trees, and spraying insecticide. These measures are considered too invasive, considering that too little is understood about the science of the disease.


Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of Italy’s Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection is one of the people suspected of negligent spreading of the plant disease by presenting false information and materials to officials, causing in this way environmental pollution and the disfiguring of natural beauty.

 

The bacterium Xylella fastidiosa is endemic in parts of the Americas, including Costa Rica, Brazil and California. The particular strain of Xylella involved in the Puglia outbreak has been reported before only in Costa Rica. It had not been seen in Europe until 2013, when it was identified in southern Italy. It is spread among trees by the spittle bug.

 

Under European Union rules, Italy is obliged to cull infected trees and destroy healthy trees to create buffer zones, but farmers and environmental activists have protested against the destruction of ancient trees. Individual court rulings have found in their favour, as a consequence tree felling and the spraying of insecticide on land were stopped.

 

Since public prosecutors announced their investigation, Italian courts have blocked the entire containment plan. The European Commission opened an infringement procedure over Italy’s failure to carry out promptly the containment measures.

 

The evidence against the scientists involved wasn't made public but prosecutors said that the deadly Xylella strain may have been imported from California for a training workshop at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari in 2010, and it may have escaped into the environment from field experiments. It was previously pointed out by scientists that the Xylella strain in question was not used in the workshop.

According to scientists it's likely that the disease arrived with ornamental plants imported from Costa Rica. 

Giulia Lombardo

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