After a first step by Brussels, which brought together all the agents from the citrus growing sector and the Valencian government, Intercitrus is ready to consolidate a pressure group to defend its interests
To do this, on the 15th of December, the interprofessional association met up with different Spanish Members of the European Parliament to create a lobby that forces the Commission to impose cold treatment in transit on European citrus fruit imports.
The goal involves preventing the very likely arrival of certain pests, basically, the Thaumatotibia leucotreta. Also called ‘False moth’, it is considered by the EU as a quarantine pest the fight against which has ‘top priority’, which – along with other similar ones, such as the B. dorsalis or B. zonata– represent a serious plant protection, economic and environmental risk for European citrus fruit growers.
There were over 200 interceptions of foreign pathogens in imports from non-EU countries up to the 6th of December, 58% in citrus fruit from South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Compulsory cold treatment is imposed on Spanish citrus fruit, without any choice or possible defence, in order to be able to export to any market in the world that produces citrus fruit. Paradoxically, no third countries apply cold treatments when exporting to the EU. However, when dealing with other markets such as the U.S.A., China or Japan, amongst others, the same suppliers of Europe, such as South Africa, agree to apply it. The European Members of Parliament undertook to give “visibility” to the problem in the European capital and to seek out political alliances in the southern Member States, also affected by these pests.
Inmaculada Sanfeliu, chairwoman of Intercitrus, insisted that the risk of these pests arriving “is disproportionate” and that South Africa’s approach, chosen to circumvent the application of cold treatment in the EU, is “unacceptable”. “A high probability of not being present does not mean it is absent. Either there are potentially transmitting individuals or there aren’t, and currently the legislation refers to total absence, not partial. Correctly performed cold treatment does not leave any room for interpretations, or for probabilities of risk: it guarantees the absence of the pest and therefore this step is not negotiable. The reports by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) back us up”
The members of Intercitrus explained that, far from that set forth by the South African lobby in Brussels, the application of the aforementioned cold treatment in transit is “perfectly assumable; it is an internationally standardised process, which South Africa already applies to its exports to other important markets.” Its cost would represent less than a third of the expense that Spanish exporters have to assume to meet the required protocols from the abovementioned countries. “Reciprocity – for diseases such as ‘Black Spot’ – should imply that the EU must demand some protocols from the countries that suffer from it that are as strict as the ones that they apply to us to prevent pests that are much less harmful such as the Ceratitis capitata”, Sanfeliu insisted. “The EFSA has already accredited the failure of the ‘systems approach’ that South Africa applies for its exports to the EU and it has shown its weaknesses, therefore we do not understand why the Commission’s reaction should be delayed much longer: if, as South Africa argues, applying it would put in danger 140,000 jobs in their country, not applying it would mean playing Russian roulette with our plantations, with the 280,000 jobs and 450 companies which, in Spain alone, live directly from our citrus fruit.”