SOUTH AFRICA – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recognized the need for South African citrus exports to the community market to undergo cold treatment to rid them of pests, consistent with the transcript of the meetings held by the Standing Committee on Vegetables, Animals, Food, and Feed (Plant Health sections).

In their presentation during the meeting, the EFSA experts stressed that the most effective measure is the cold treatment. In view of this, the European Commission has initiated a process to review the conditions under which South African citrus fruits, and all other plant products that are potential hosts of Thaumatotibia leucotreta (False Codling Moth), are imported into the EU.

It should be noted that cold treatment is the only current system that guarantees the safety of these imports and that Spain – and even South Africa itself – are already obliged to implement it when exporting their products to other countries.

It also emerged that EFSA has had considerable difficulties in accessing all the information that was required from the South African authorities and that, on some occasions, not all of the actions that are included in the South African work plan were followed.

At the meeting, the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture reiterated the aspects put on the table in the EFSA report, insisting that cold treatment is the only option to guarantee a tolerable level of pest absence.

In this sense, the European Commission indicated that it is waiting for the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to publish its proposal for a specific phytosanitary standard for the cold treatment against the False Codling Moth (FCM) to have an international standard reference when modifying community regulations.

FCM is a threat to many fruits, vegetables and other crops. Increased international trade and tourism has increased the risk of introduction of this pest. The moth can survive in climates described as tropical, dry or temperate.

Increasing South African shipments interceptions

The latest official data available indicates that, up till September, a total of 204 shipments were intercepted. In the same period of last year, the European Union (EU) intercepted 203 shipments.

In September of this year, the EU intercepted 14 shipments from South Africa with pests, 8 with Phyllosticta citricarpa- causative agent for citrus black spot- and 6 with FCM, almost tripling the amount of interceptions in September 2020.

This years alone, between January and September, the EU has already seized 33 South African shipments. In the same period last year, they intercepted 18 shipments. In September, the EU intercepted a total of 24 shipments from all countries, 14 of which came from South Africa.

The first United States detection of FCM was in Ventura County, Calif., in 2008. It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of the continental United States may be suitable habitat for FCM.

Intercitrus, the Spanish orange and soft citrus interprofessional body, had on the eve of the EU’s Phytosanitary Standing Committee meeting, accused South African producers of failing to properly address the problem of citrus black spot (CBS) by using less efficient fungicides in a bid to cut costs.

“In light of the repeated problems caused by the detection in European ports of black spot in consignments of South African citrus, we conclude that grower-exporters are not complying with EU legislation and are fighting this fungus without resorting to fungicides with proven efficacy in this field,” the organization said in a statement.

The organization insinuated that the exporters were avoiding incurring higher costs and backed calls from the Spanish government for citrus exports from South Africa to undergo cold treatment in transit to prevent the arrival of FCM.

It also called for an automatic EU ban of South African citrus imports if more than five consignments are rejected in a year for CBS.

“This year, South Africa will not only once again be the main non-European supplier of citrus to the EU…but also, as has happened on many previous occasions, the origin with the most European port interceptions,” Intercitrus said.

Intercitrus points to the findings of a recent report from the European Food Safety Agency commissioned by the European Commission, which concluded that the systems approach currently used for South African citrus shipments to the EU does not guarantee the absence of false codling moth in consignments.

“The evidence leads us to believe that South Africa is resorting to cheaper treatments against the fungus, which do not comply with EU requirements for the ‘most appropriate’ fungicides to be used in the affected areas,” the body said.

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