SA’s citrus fruit has to undergo rigorous screening before it can be exported to ensure it conforms to global disease regulations, such as that regarding citrus black spot. Picture: REUTERS
SA’s citrus fruit has to undergo rigorous screening before it can be exported to ensure it conforms to global disease regulations, such as that regarding citrus black spot. Picture: REUTERS

The Citrus Growers Association, which represents the interests of producers of citrus fruits throughout Southern Africa, has hit out at the EU, saying it seems determined to meet SA’s best efforts of mitigating the risk of Citrus Black Spot (CBS) symptoms with “unflinching bureaucratic coldness”. 

CBS is a fungal disease that affects the rind of the fruit, but does not result in decay.

At a meeting in Brussels on Monday between the EU’s directorate-general for health and food safety, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and a delegation of South African citrus producers, the EU acknowledged this year as a good season, said  Jan-Louis Pretorius, the director of the Citrus Growers Association.

“However, the EU showed no interest in reviewing its position on CBS as a quarantine pest, demanding full compliance and refusing to consider any reasonable requests for relaxation of the excessive and unsustainable protocols governing the pest.”

SA exported more than 800,000 tonnes of citrus to the EU during the 2018 season, yet only two consignments were intercepted with CBS symptoms, Pretorius said.

“None of these tested as viable fungi. SA has shown enormous capacity to mitigate the risk of CBS symptoms over the past four years, even though it does not agree with the EU that CBS poses any threat to the EU. In fact, SA is aligned with the general world scientific view that citrus fruit without leaves is not a pathway for the spread of CBS.”

A recent independent study by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy found that the South African citrus industry’s opportunity cost associated with the CBS protocols and proactive measures amounted to close to R2bn, which was not sustainable, the Citrus Growers Association said.

“Furthermore, the CBS protocols also require intensive chemical spraying programmes, which is in conflict with a global move towards lower residue production.

The delegation of South African citrus producers were disappointed by [the EU's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety] DG Sante, who appeared bent on increasing intensification of their CBS measures — a move that can only be seen as both protectionist and overly aggressive, considering that the EU’s CBS measures remain the subject of an unresolved dispute,” Pretorius said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za