The EU has recommended that 11million Italian olive trees be cut down

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Comes after a deadly microbe spread by insects was discovered in them and fears that unless they are destroyed it will spread to other areas of Italy. Some of the trees that might have to be chopped down are centuries old.

The price of olive oil is expected to rocket after the EU ordered the felling of millions of trees infected with a deadly microbe.

Brussels has recommended that about 11million olive trees in southern Italy, many centuries old, be chopped down.

They have been infected with Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium spread by an aphid. The disease, first identified in the Americas has already wiped out a million trees in Salento, southern Puglia.

Olive trees in southern Puglia in Italy. The EU has recommended that 11million trees be cut down after they were found to be infected with a deadly microbe

It is feared that unless drastic action is taken to fell the groves, the bacterium will spread to other olive-producing regions of Italy such as Tuscany and Umbria, and even to other Mediterranean countries.

Xylella fastidiosa can also infect vines, almond trees and other crops.

Puglia, a region in the heel of Italy, produces about 11million tons of olives a year, more than a third of the national crop, and they are used to make some of the country’s best oils.

If the trees are destroyed, it could effect production and send the prices of olive oil soaring

The initial area to be culled is 20,000 acres – about 30 sq miles – between Lecce to Brindisi. It contains around 11million trees, according to Unaprol, the largest consortium of growers.

Many of Italy’s oldest olive groves, some dating back 500 years, have been infected by the bacterium, which causes plants to shrivel, leaving them incapable of bearing fruit.

The effect on production will mean shortages in the supply of olive oil and is likely to lead to higher prices for shoppers in Britain and around the world.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Food Safety and Security, said he was ‘profoundly concerned by the gravity of the situation’.

He added: ‘We have to take decisive measures with immediate effect. Naturally it is very painful for the growers but it is necessary to remove all the affected trees, it is the most effective measure.’

A committee will meet on Thursday next week to rubber stamp the directive, which growers fear will create a desert in the area as it will not be possible to replant it with olive groves.

Popular singer and olive producer Albano Carrisi said culling the trees is ‘cruel’ and ‘useless’. He said: ‘Do not disfigure our beautiful Puglia.

Puglia without olives is like the Vatican without cardinals’. Gianni Cantele, president of one Puglia producers’ consortium, Coldiretti, said it was ‘a natural disaster’.


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