Be aware of Xyllella and Bursaphelenchus

Due to the increasing global trade, the contamination of certain plants and wood by certain types of insects, is spreading further. The infected plants while being moved long-distance away for planting can transmit the disease. The contamination is also transmitted by the packaging materials made of contaminated wood.

Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) has asked ESC for support in the awareness-raising of contamination with two plant diseases, of the risks it brings, and how to avoid them.

The first disease is caused by Xylella fastidiosa (X. fastidiosa), a bacterium that infects a wide range of woody commercial plants, such as grapevine, citrus and olive plants, several species of broadleaf trees widely grown in the EU, and many herbaceous plants. Long-distance spread can occur by the movement of infected plants for planting. These plants can act as a source of bacteria for the other insects using these plants for food and who can later transmit the disease to other hosts. There can also be some transfer of the bacterium between neighboring plants via root grafts.

Each EU Member State must develop and publish a contingency plan for dealing with X. fastidiosa, should it be found.

The second disease has been already posing a threat to the European trade for a longer period. The pine wood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus) is a microscopic worm measuring about one millimeter and invisible to the naked eye. Finding and identifying it always requires a laboratory examination. The species is originally from North America. From there it is spread to Asia before reaching Portugal, presumably through Asia. In North America, the pine wood nematode occurs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In Asia, the pine wood nematode occurs in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. In Europe, it has so far only spread to Portugal. In 2009, the EU declared the whole of Portugal as infested with pine wood nematode.

As some of the measures to fight the contamination, wood used to produce packaging materials must be debarked and heat treated to a core temperature of at least 56 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 30 minutes. To meet these requirements, the mark must include the abbreviation HT for “heat treated”. Alternatively, the wood can be gased with methyl bromide. However, the use of this gas is prohibited in the EU. Most companies are using already heat-treated pallets and dunnage wood.

DG SANTE is going to develop new awareness-raising measures. ESC is supporting DG SANTE in their approach and has agreed to raise awareness with its members on this danger for European species and environment.