South African citrus growers claim mismatch in new EU regulations
People from the South African citrus industry say they believe the additional measures imposed by the EU on the country’s farmers to limit citrus black spot (CBS) are disproportionate to the risks, and have accused some European groups of ulterior motives behind pushing for restrictions.
Citrus Growers Association (CGA) of Southern Africa CEO Justin Chadwick told www.freshfruitportal.com the severity of the restrictions did not reflect the relatively small number of CBS cases related to his country.
"If you look at the number of inceptions last year - 35 inceptions in 650,000 (metric) tons of consignments - it's a negligible amount, and yet, for the amount of time spent on this issue and the measures imposed, one would think that it is a far greater issue than it actually is," he said.
Chadwick also said he thought South Africa was being unfairly picked out, since many other nations have also had cases of CBS but have not received any special regulations.
"We definitely feel that you need to be consistent with the application of any new measures, and citrus black spot is not only an issue in South Africa, it’s an issue in other countries as well," he said.
"In fact, if you look at the number of inceptions per 1,000 (metric) tons of fruit exported to the EU from these different countries, we’re probably the best in terms of performance in the past. We do have a problem with being singled out with measures that aren’t applied to other countries.
"Obviously, the EU authorities have got a responsibility and they have to answer to their member states and meet their concerns, but we do believe that there is to a large extent not a match between the measures that have been implemented and the risked posed."
Chadwick went on to explain how various scientific reports carried out since the issue of CBS arose in 1992 have demonstrated that it could not spread onto EU farms.
"South African scientists gave an assessment in 2000 and concluded that there was no risk of the fungus speaking into Europe, and in 2010 the US did a PRA [pest risk assessment] and their main conclusion was that the fruit is not a pathway."
The geography of South Africa is such that it has two different climates, one in the Mediterranean-like Western Cape and another in the subtropical Eastern Cape which receives rainfall in the summer.
Chadwick says the fact citrus growers in the Western Cape have never had any cases of CBS in their crops plainly demonstrates how the disease could not affect European citrus growers.
"It's a very clear example of the fact that the disease will not spread into the Mediterranean climate, the fact that in the Western Cape, where they have the winter rainfall, they do not have citrus black spot," he said.
"There's no restriction on the movement of fruit within South Africa and yet, that area has never had CBS develop there. So that’s a very illustrative example of how it won’t spread into a country with a Mediterranean climate."
Many of Chadwick's views regarding the risks of CBS and South Africa’s unfair treatment were echoed by the CEO of a citrus company in the country who wished to remain anonymous.
"It [the recent ruling] is a pain. It's not going to be easy. In the short-term it’s nice to know where we stand, but in the long-term it’s painful. You've got Argentina, you’ve got Uruguay, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and you've got Australia, so it’s stupid to have this applied to South Africa," the CEO said.
"You can divide South Africa citrus growing industry into two regions, one is summer rainfall and the other is winter rainfall. In the winter rainfall, which is the Mediterranean climate, we’re in the same country, and you don’t have any CBS.
"It hasn’t and will not establish itself in the winter rainfall part of the country. We’ve been growing citrus for over 150 years here. That, to me is the purest evidence. Where does the evidence come from that fruit can transmit this problem from South Africa to Europe?"
The CEO then went on to accuse groups from various EU countries of pressuring the European Commission to impose the measures as their season overlaps with that of the Western Cape, and they wanted less competition in the continent’s citrus market.
"The European part of the citrus growing region is all winter rainfall. We all know that it's Spanish growers, supported by Portugal, Italy and Greece, that just complain. They've had tremendous lobbying and they've convinced everybody that this is a big problem," he said.
"From the Southern Hemisphere, we are encroaching on the Northern Hemisphere's marketing period, and they are on what we would call our part of the season, or supply year."
In contrast to the South African reaction to the recent ruling, a spokesperson for Spain's Small Farmers and Ranchers Union said the EU's measures did not go far enough.
"They are not sufficient. They are not enough to guarantee the health of Spanish crops," the spokesperson said.
"In the case of South Africa the number of interceptions has been much higher than other countries. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently determined that there is a clear and serious risk of citrus black spot from South Africa contaminating the other fruit.
"That’s what the EFSA said in their last report that there is a clear risk of it spreading to European farms, including Spanish ones."
The spokesperson also denied any ideas that Spain wanted increased restrictions on South Africa to limit competition in the citrus market.
"That [idea] is not true. They know they have been sending contaminated fruit. We have no problem if they can guarantee the health of the produce they send over. But at the moment, South Africa simply cannot offer sufficient guarantees. That's the issue.
"South Africa is going to have to work to resolve this problem. It is in the hands of the South African authorities and growers of where it goes from here."