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European Olive Groves Could Face Devastation From Epidemic of Their Own

The xylella fastidiosa pathogen threatens Italy, Greece and Spain with billions in losses

Italian olive groves struggle with deadly xylella disease Charles Onians/AFP via Getty Images

The price and future of olive oil could be under threat

A persistent, incurable pathogen could cause over £20 billion of financial damage and unquantifiable cultural ruin to Europe’s olive oil industry, if resistant cultivars can’t be found. A projection on the impact of xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that kills trees, spreads in insects, and has been particularly associated with olive trees since 2013, says that Italy, Greece and Spain could see their industries irreversibly changed in the next 50 years, according to the BBC.

This would almost certainly raise prices for consumers and restaurants in the U.K., but more pressing in the short-term is the impact on the cultural economies of the olive groves. Italian olive producers have already seen a reduction of 60 percent in crop yields since 2013, which in turn pushes down agritourism; the inherited significance of trees passed through families initially led farmers told to uproot at-risk groves to distrust scientific advice. The £20 billion figure remains a worst-case, future projection for now, but the pathogen’s impact to date — not just in Italy, but in Brazilian citrus and in Californian wine — means it is very much a problem for now.

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