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For several years, olive trees in Europe, especially along the Mediterranean, have been under attack. And now Spain must face this scourge. The culprit is a deadly bacteria that goes by the name Xylella fastidiosa.

A History Lesson

Its common names are many, ranging from phoney peach disease to oleander leaf scorch, with the current name for the Italian strain being olive quick decline syndrome. As one can guess from this wide variety of plant-based names, X. fastidiosa is a versatile bacteria that has been a plague on many kinds of crops for more than a century.

Some of the earliest references to it date back to the late 1800s where it was known as Pierce’s disease and targeted grapes in the United States. Even today, the wine industry in California continues to try and find ways to beat back the infection.

In 2013, the olive outbreak in Italy first began in the southern heel region of Puglia. The only way to combat the bacteria was to heavily prune the infected trees to stop the infection from spreading. Even then, the regulatory authorities involved likely did not go far enough in their pruning (for fear of harming the olive industry as a whole) and let the bacteria fester and keep slowly spreading tendrils.

Disagreement and Confusion

But even with that, there is disagreement between different groups on what should be done. The Italian government says one thing, the EU says another, the EFSA has chimed in, and environmental groups have joined the cacophony. And regardless of the arguments going on, X. fastidiosa continues to spread.

Which brings us to today. Spain appears to be the one who gets the short end of the stick from Italy’s difficulties this time. Germany and France have already seem some of their crops infected as the bacteria ventures forth.

On Friday, the disease was detected in olive trees on the Balearic Islands that belong to Spain. Not just olives, however, also cherry and almond trees, among others. As a containment measure, the entire island archipelago was declared contaminated.

Since, the Spanish authorities have gone through and cut down all the infected plants, including all the uninfected plants (for now) within a 100 meter radius of any infection.

Hope For Good Fortune

The only luck thus far has been that the plants affected have all been in the wild and none of the crop farms in the region appear to be at risk at the moment.

Even so, they have to be careful. The archipelago is a balanced ecosystem and too much destruction could lead to other parts dying off due to necessary keystone species being inhibited.

With fingers crossed, everyone is hoping that they’ve managed to contain X. fastidiosa. But that doesn’t stop the ongoing fight elsewhere in Europe and around the world against this dangerous pathogen.

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Photo CCs: Olive trees on Thassos from Wikimedia Commons

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