Eosta: "Import ban on citrus smells like protectionist measure"

UPDATE 12 Nov 2015: In October 2015 no less than 49 interceptions of black spot occurred in lemon shipments from Uruguay. This brings Uruguay to a grand total of 61 interceptions in 2015 (in 55.000 tons of total imports), against 17 in Argentina (in 170.000 tons of imports) and 16 in South-Africa (in 700.00 tons of imports). In spite of the fact that Uruguay has a 50 times higher incidence of CBS, South Africa remains the only country with an export ban to date. Source: Europhyt.

Press release, Waddinxveen - For three years in a row (2013, 2014, 2015) citrus exports from South Africa to the EU have been stopped under threat of an EU ban. Each time this happened at around the time the European citrus season started. Citrus exports from South America, with substantially more black spot interceptions in smaller trade volumes, were not stopped. According to scientists the spread of black spot in Europe via infected fruits is impossible. Volkert Engelsman of Eosta asks the logical question: Isn't this ban really a protectionist measure?

Black spot is a fungal disease in citrus fruit that occurs around the world in specific places with a subtropical climate. The fungus causes small black lesions on fruits which makes the product difficult to sell, although the damage is purely cosmetic and the eating quality of fruit is not affected. There is no health hazard either. Trees do not die from this disease, as is the case with some other citrus diseases like Citrus Sudden Death that killed millions of citrus trees in Brazil. For such diseases, strict precautions would be justified.

The black spot issue nevertheless has a major economic impact. Citrus growers in South Africa in particular have been seriously duped by the situation. In November 2013 the first stop on citrus exports from certain parts of South Africa was initiated under threat of a ban by the European Food Safety Authority. This pattern was repeated in subsequent years. In 2014 and 2015, South African citrus growers stopped exporting in September after ‘hits’ were found in a minimal number of export lots.

In the meantime the price tag of the risk management system has expanded to ridiculous levels, all at the expense of the growers. Strangely enough, imports from South America were not banned, although black spot interceptions occurred twice as often as on South African fruit. According to EU Europhyt reports, from March to September 2015, twenty-six interceptions occurred in shipments from Argentina and Uruguay, while only twelve interceptions occurred in shipments from South Africa.

Volkert Engelsman, director of Eosta, importer of organic fruit from both continents, comments: "The import ban is disputable from a scientific point of view. The disease cycle of the fungus is of such a nature that the disease cannot spread to trees from the lesions contained on mature fruit. Furthermore an international expert panel of scientists pointed out in 2013 that there is no risk of transmission to European climates. The fungus simply does not occur in areas with a Mediterranean climate."

Engelsman adds: "The Western Cape province in South Africa has a Mediterranean climate and has been growing lemons for eighty years. The Eastern Cape is an area where black spot occurs and has also been growing lemons for eighty years. There is no restriction on citrus movements between these two areas. Yet black spot has not managed to establish itself in the Western Cape, not in eighty years time."

Engelsman therefore asks the obvious question: "South Africa and Spain are the largest citrus producers in the world. Seeing that only imports from South Africa are affected, one wonders if this is really a sanitary measure, or a disguised trade barrier. It looks a lot like the EU wanting to protect southern European citrus growers. At the same time one wonders why citrus from Argentina has not been stopped in spite of higher hit rates on smaller quantities."

Volkert Engelsman is CEO and founder of Eosta, Europe's leading specialist in organic fruits and vegetables. Engelsman founded the company in 1990. Ever since, he visited growers in South America and South Africa several times each year. He initiated the Save Our Soils campaign and was a member of the IFOAM World Board (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). Nature & More, Eosta's "trace & tell" trademark, received several awards including the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award 2013 (Austria). See also www.eosta.com, www.natureandmore.com and www.saveoursoils.com.