Postcard from... Brussels


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Tucked away in the heel of Italy, Puglia is one of the country’s most picturesque regions, its groves of centuries-old olive trees in sun-baked ground encapsulating the tourist’s dream of a rustic idyll.

But an insect-borne disease – and a decision hundreds of miles away in Brussels – is bringing conflict to the sleepy region and threatening Italy’s vital olive oil industry.

A bacterium known as xylella fastidiosa has infected up to one million olive trees in Puglia, leaving them to wither and die. The disease can also affect other crops, and with farmers in France and Spain worried about their vineyards and citrus groves, the EU has been under pressure to take action. So last month the European Commission recommended that Italy destroy 10 per cent of the trees in the region in an effort to contain the disease.

With 11 million olive trees in Puglia producing 40 per cent of Italy’s olive oil, that could mean a huge economic blow.

After the EC statement, the NGO Peacelink wrote to the health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, that such a move would be a “great mistake”.

So, for now, the trees have a reprieve as Brussels mulls the best course of action, and Italy wrangles over compensation for the farmers whose livelihoods depend on the oil.