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While authorities quarrel, olive-killing bacteria infects third Puglia province

by Giorgio dell’Orefice

The emergence in Puglia of the Xylella Fastidiosa bacteria, which is killing the centuries-old olive groves of Salento, has become something of a paradox. The more forceful the efforts to contain it become, the more complicated the situation grows.

On one hand, a new case in Avetrana shows that Xylella, after infecting Lecce and Brindisi, has now arrived in Taranto province. But any reponse there has been stalled by the resignation of special commissioner, Giuseppe Silletti, who is being investigated by Lecce authorities.

Looming over the situation is the threat of infraction procedures by the European Union:
“For our part, measures outlined by the EU authorities and included in the Silletti Plan are still valid and should be applied,” said a source close to EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

“Italy received a warning letter in December and has more than a month to offer a rebuttal. But without one, we’ll be forced to move forward with infraction procedures since it won’t be possible to remove the ongoing international trade embargo on products produced from olive groves in Puglia.”

Silletti’s resignation, although blocking any practical solutions, didn’t interrupt the period of special commission oversight, which remains in effect until Feb. 5.

The impasse can only be dissolved by a new request by the region of Puglia for a postponement in the period of oversight. In recent weeks, the civil protection services and the Ministry of Agricultural Policy have requested that regional authorities, led by Puglia president Michele Emiliano, clarifiy its position on an evenutal postponement. But there's been no response for far.

Emiliano’s only initiative was a request to testify as an “offended party” in the inquiry by the Salento prosecutor. That was followed recently by an offical meeting in Rome between the Puglia magistrates and the Minister for Agricultural Policy, Maurizio Martina.
There has been some protest at the lack of action.

In recent days, senators of the Five Star Movement issued a vote of no confidence in Martina. Report of the latest outbreak fueled alarm in agricultural circles regarding the block on monitoring activities that had been carried by the Regional Observatory of Plant Health.

Trade group Coldiretti Puglia underlined the seriousness of the situation, saying the “new outbreaks of contagion in Avetrana, in the province of Taranto, demonstrate the importance of renewed controlls and monitoring immediately.”

“We take note of the meeting between Minister Marina and the Lecce district attorney Motto,” said Dino Scanavino, coordinator of trade group Agrinsieme. “But now we must move quickly from words to action and find a new way to stop this bacteria that's infecting our olives and to avoid European sanctions.”