News You Really Need To See: “Olives, and a Way of Life, Under Threat”

“Olives, and a Way of Life, Under Threat”

The New York Times, May 12, 2015, p.A4

“Across the stony heel of Italy, a peninsula ringed by the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean, olive trees have existed for centuries, shaping the landscape and producing some of the nation’s finest olive oils.  Except now, many of the trees are dying.  Sprinkled among the healthy trees are clusters of sick ones, denuded of leaves and standing like skeletons, their desiccated branches bereft of olives.  The trees are succumbing to a bacterial outbreak that is sweeping across one of Italy’s most famous olive regions, as families who have manufactured olive oil for generations now fear ruin, even as officials in the rest of Europe fear a broader outbreak. … Today, scientists estimate that one million olive trees in the peninsula, known as the Salento, are infected with the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, a figure that could rise rapidly. … The bacterial outbreak — which is believed to have arrived with plants imported from Costa Rica and has already destroyed citrus trees in Brazil and vineyards in California — poses a new danger for all of European agriculture. … The bacterium steadily restricts water flow from the roots of a tree to its branches and leaves.  The olives are not affected, but production gradually diminishes as a tree dies. … To some degree, Europe is simply now facing a problem long entrenched in the Americas.  One recent study estimated that Pierce’s disease — a strain of Xylella that affects grapes and vineyards — costs California $104 million a year.  Farmers in Brazil, which produces about 60 percent of the global juice supply, face similar problems.”

Quickie analysis:  Globalization spreads pathogens just as surely as it spreads the products of the countries they infect.

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