Spain’s Orange Growers Seek South Africa Import Ban on Disease

Orange growers in Spain, Europe’s largest producer of the fruit, urged the European Union to ban citrus imports from South Africa after new cases of black spot disease in inbound shipments.

Black spot findings in South African citrus imports rose to 17 this season, the Valencia Farmers Association wrote in an online statement today, citing an EU committee on plant health. Europhyt, the EU notification system for plant-health interceptions, shows nine cases in September, on top of one in July and four in August.

South African citrus growers halted most exports to the EU, their biggest market, as of Sept. 18 in a bid to head off trade measures. The EU sent a letter to South Africa on Sept. 24 saying it expected to find no new cases of black spot from Oct. 3 onward, or it would consider starting a procedure to restrict exports of citrus fruit from the country.

“The plant-health problem in South Africa is totally out of control,” Cristobal Aguado, the president of the farming association, was cited as saying. “The European Commission has the obligation to close its frontiers to this time bomb.”

The EU said in March it would consider safeguards against citrus from South Africa if more than five cargoes with black spot were found in the same export season.

Legal Proposal

“After Oct. 3, there has not been any new interception,” commission spokesman Frederic Vincent wrote in an e-mail reply to questions. “In case a new interception takes place, the legal proposal for a possible ban until the end of the year will be launched.”

The date set by the EU took into account two weeks of shipping for South African citrus cargoes already under way before Sept. 18, with the country committing to ship only from pest-free areas after that date. The commission is the EU’s executive arm.

Black spot disease is caused by the fungus guignardia citricarpa Kiely and results in leaf spotting and fruit blemishes, with lemons particularly susceptible, according to the European Food Safety Authority. The regulator has said the fungus can survive transport and storage and could establish itself in EU citrus-fruit production areas.