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Agricultural pest threatens Israeli exports to European Union

The European Union has threatened to prohibit the export of some Israeli produce to Europe amid concerns over a moth known to damage crops, the Agriculture Ministry said Tuesday.

An Agriculture Ministry statement said the EU had warned that the export of certain produce will be halted on January 1, 2018, if Israeli farmers don’t meet new EU health rules and protocols on dealing with the false codling moth.

The moth, which is found primarily in Africa, has become more of a nuisance in recent years for Israeli farmers.

Among the over 70 types of crops the moth ruins by laying its eggs on them are citrus fruits, pomegranates, mango, grapes, corn and peppers, all of which are grown in Israel.

In response to the threat of an export ban by the EU, Israeli authorities are working on multiple channels to prevent any damage to the agricultural produce export industry.

An official from the Israel Agriculture Ministry explained “we have been making efforts to combat this pest for several years now regardless of any warnings from Europe, this moth can cause significant damage to growers and it’s our responsibility to help them”.

Since February of 2016, several branches of the Ag ministry have been working together to produce protocols for dealing with the False Codling Moth and have been disseminating information to growers throughout the country. 

Additionally, there have been regular ‘roundtable’ discussions held in regional councils for growers to raise the awareness of the best methods and points of emphasis.

“In addition to the efforts of our office on the ground, we are also working to prevent any infected produce from leaving the country and reaching the European market. There have been several cases of fruit shipments to Europe which were halted due to our inspectors finding signs of the pest. Its key to prevent any infected produce from leaving the country to prevent the problem from seeming worse than it is in the eyes of European officials.”

Comments from exporters
From the perspective of exporters, the threat of an export ban is a concern but not necessarily a pressing one. According to Oron Ziv of BeFresh Europe, a fresh produce exporter, “these types of concerns happen every some years for some new pest or banned pesticide used, and almost always they [Israeli authorities] are able to deal with them. This moth is indeed more serious because it is found in almost every product.”

Other exporters note that while this issue is potentially very serious, it is largely out of their hands to solve it, and they have more pressing concerns.

A large citrus exporter from the north of the country added that “all we can do about this issue is follow the guidelines and try to catch any problems before they leave the country. We are more concerned with planning our upcoming season and dealing with things like competition and the new export tariffs imposed on easy peeler citrus products which can hurt our profits.”

Mango exporters who are nearing the end of their season note “we are focused on avoiding quality issues in general, including any pests such as the moth. Right now we will finish our season and we have no threat of any ban, and we hope that by the next season even if there is such a situation it will be solved already. The reality with this sort of thing is that when European importers need our fruit they become more flexible, but in the case of exports which they can receive easily from other places then they can be more strict and create problems for us.”

Other countries
The ministry also warned that the moth presents a threat to produce exports to the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

The ministry said however that eliminating the moth would be difficult, as the insect reproduces a number of times each year and its eggs and larvae are difficult to detect.

The ministry also said that countries importing Israeli produce require the use of environmental friendly pesticides, which are less effective in killing off the moth.

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