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CBS spreading and causing damage across all citrus-growing areas in Tunisia

In 2019, after detecting the presence of Citrus Black Spot (CBS or Phyllosticta citricarpa) in up to seven imported consignments of Tunisian citrus in European ports within just two months, Tunisian authorities confirmed the presence of the disease for the first time in the north-east of the country, in the governorate of Nabeul.

An area of 2,000 hectares was officially declared infected. "This discovery has disproved decades of claims by South Africa that the CBS is unable to adapt to the temperature and rainfall conditions that are found in Spain," noted the Comité de Gestión de Cítricos (CGC). Less than five years after its initial detection, the disease has now fully spread to the citrus growing areas of Tunisia, extending beyond Nabeul to Sousse, warns a recent scientific article published in the Journal of Phytopathology titled 'Geographical distribution, prevalence, and incidence of citrus black spot caused by Phyllosticta citricarpa in Tunisia'.

These findings coincide with the South African government's call to the European Commission (EC) for consultations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), to challenge the European Union regulations that prevent the import of fungal-infected citrus from countries such as South Africa.

According to Inmaculada Sanfeliu, President of the Citrus Management Committee (CGC), this new study "demonstrates the need to maintain and even strengthen these control measures, based on fungicide treatments and inspections in origin, as well as the lack of scientific credibility of the South African exporters and authorities".

The article published in March reports on a fully transparent investigation, with surveys and quantification of damage, promoted by Tunisian authorities. It confirms that the detection of the disease was not anecdotical; it assesses the severity of the problem and its consequences, as well as the phytosanitary and economic risks posed by its potential spread to EU citrus-growing areas. The findings are in line with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific opinions, which were first presented in 2008, 2014, and reviewed again in 2018. The criteria for the current European regulations— challenged again at the WTO, as in 2014 — which apply not only to South Africa but also to other citrus-exporting countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Zimbabwe, all of which are affected by this disease. Additionally, a recent study by the Valencian Institute of Agricultural Research (IVIA) has confirmed, using mathematical models of potential infections, the climatic suitability of the Mediterranean basin for the development of CBS.

This recent article, consistent with the findings from other affected regions worldwide, confirms that there is no known successful case of eradicating CBS once it has been introduced. In all affected countries, between four and six fungicide treatments per year are necessary to control the disease acceptably. This level of treatment would be nearly impossible in the EU, given current phytosanitary restrictions and additional requirements from the 'Farm to Fork Strategy.'

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