The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has cast doubts on a study that suggests the fungus which causes citrus black spot disease (CBS) is present in Europe.
The study, sponsored by the South African citrus lobby, concluded that despite the fungus being present in EU citrus-producing countries for centuries, the climatic conditions in Europe do not facilitate the propagation of the disease, rendering the phytosanitary barriers imposed by the EU on citrus imports unnecessary.
The authors of the study reported finding the fungal pathogen in domestic gardens in Portugal, Malta and Italy but said there was no evidence of the disease at any of the sites.
However, EFSA said the samples were “inconsistent and not statistically based”.
“Although the authors [of the study] applied advanced molecular techniques for identifying fungal species, EFSA’s Panel on Plant Health noted a number of limitations in the surveillance part of the study,” the body said.
“It is not clear from the methodology presented how the sample locations and sites were chosen or how samples were collected.”
The EFSA concluded that no explanation had been given for how the surveys were conducted and that “without properly constituted disease surveys, there is little support for the conclusion that P. citricarpa did not lead to disease.”
The Citrus Management Committee, which groups together the biggest citrus exporters in Spain, said the South Africans – with the collusion of a number of agencies and institutes in the Netherlands acting on the interests of fruit importers – of acting in an underhand manner.
It pointed out that the scientific assumptions of the South African study was based on the analysis of samples from gardens, urban or marginal areas and never from citrus farms in regular exploitation.