The Citrus Management Committee (CGC), the national association that brings together private exporters, regrets the uncertainty created by the revision of phytosanitary protocols to regulate South African citrus imports to the EU. Shipments have already begun and some are already arriving in European ports and the Commission (EC) has not yet validated the proposal made by this country. After the strong rebound last season in European interceptions of the Citrus Black Spot (CBS) -with up to 24 port refusals- and 14 interceptions of the dangerous Thaumatotibia leucotreta moth, South Africa had to commit to review its control programs for both pests.

The CGC has been able to ascertain that there have been significant changes that, if possible, generate greater distrust. On the one hand, the South African Ministry of Agriculture (DAFF) has failed to monitor the compliance of both programs, which have been entrusted until 2019 to the same public company (called PPECB) that last year inspected them and gave way to such an alarming amount of port rejections. On the other hand, some of the most relevant measures proposed to ensure the phytosanitary status of the shipments to the EU haven’t been confirmed by independent scientists or comply with international regulations. In particular, and as a sign of the inability to contain the Thaumatotibia at origin, the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa has proposed a false cold treatment that hasn’t been tested for this insect and that, according to the CGC, “has been tailored to save face.”

For this reason, the CGC – like the Spanish citrus sector as a whole and even the European Parliament – has demanded as a producer country that the EC require the same cold treatment applied by the US or China to South African citrus imports to protect itself from this moth, whose larvae develops inside the fruit destroying it from the pulp, which makes detection very difficult and that increases the possibilities of contagion.

The problem generated at the start of the Southern Hemisphere’s import campaign with the EU’s first third-party counter-supplier is a consequence of the margin that the EU executive gave the South African sector when it decided to declare this plague a quarantine pest, making inspection in European port facilities mandatory since January 1, 2018. Thus, instead of acting like other non-European countries that also have to protect their citrus productions against pests, the EC opted for an alternative model in which the South African exporters themselves choose the phytosanitary import conditions in the EU market.

Today – once such regulatory change has taken effect – the CGC has learned that the South African proposal includes a false cold treatment, which has only been theoretically endorsed by the Citrus Research International (CRI) center, which is financed by the South African exporters. This cold treatment, which doesn’t have a specified duration or official control by independent officials, would be applied during the crossing to Europe and to different degrees, depending on the status of the field from which the fruit comes and doesn’t apply for lemons and grapefruit.

According to the CGC, , beyond increasing the danger of contamination due to its partiality and probable ineffectiveness, accepting such a method would mean establishing a dangerous precedent and a comparative wrong with respect to Spanish exports, as Spanish producers are forced by citrus powers, such as China, the US, Japan, and Korea, to apply a complete program that is reviewed and endorsed by the Administration -not by a concessionaire company, like in the South African case- and a strict cold treatment to ensure the non-survival of larvae some of Ceratitis capitata. Unlike the South African treatment, this treatment does not exclude any item, it sets a specific number of treatment days and compliance during the journey is verified by various approved sensors. Moreover, regarding this same moth, South Africa accepts the conditions imposed by the US and China, among others, which includes submitting their shipments – without exceptions – to a real cold treatment, that is, at temperatures below zero (not above zero, as is now the case for the EU) for at least 22 days.

It’s worth noting that a few months ago three of the researchers of the CRI, which supposedly supports this false treatment, wrote a scientific article about the supposed presence of the Phylosticta citricarpa in citrus areas of the northern shore of the Mediterranean. According to the thesis, this area’s agro-climatic conditions are not suitable to develop this crop because of the presence of this pathogen and not of the black spot fungus (CBS). Such a discovery would have been key to a subsequent official request with which to finalize the current phytosanitary protocol. Recently, an EFSA panel denied this finding and openly questioned the manner in which the research was done. “The EC should instruct EFSA to revise the protocols now proposed before validating them, just like it did back then. In the meantime they should demand the only protocol that has proved effective against the Thaumatotibia so far, which is the one requested by the US and China,” the Management Committee stated.