EU bans SA citrus for the rest of the year

The EU has banned most imports of SA citrus for the remainder of this year following fears that citrus black spot (CBS), a fungal disease found in dozens of shipments, could spread to the 28-nation bloc, Reuters reported.

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The ban follows the interception of 36 citrus consignments contaminated with CBS this season. SA is the EU’s main summer supplier of citrus.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the European Commission was set to propose the ban following pressure from citrus growers in southern Europe.

"The introduction of citrus black spot into the EU territory would pose a serious threat to the EU’s citrus-producing areas. For that reason, it is necessary to further restrict the import of citrus fruit from South Africa," said the Commission.

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The ban will apply to all South African citrus shipments from regions where the disease is present, which covers the bulk of the country’s production.

Initially, the ban will apply only to the 2012/2013 harvest, which ended in October. It will, therefore, have little immediate impact, because the exports to Europe dry up around October anyway.

But EU officials have warned that the restrictions could be extended into next year if an ongoing study by the bloc’s food safety watchdog finds that the disease could take hold in Europe’s estimated 500 000ha of citrus groves.

DA spokesperson Annette Steyn said in a media statement that the citrus ban on SA could affect up to 80 000 jobs.

While harmless to humans, CBS causes unsightly lesions on the fruit and leaves, but does not influence the quality.