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EU bans most South African citrus imports over disease fears

The European Union has enforced a ban on the bulk of citrus imports from South Africa amid fears a fungal disease there might spread to Europe. There is no known cure for the black spot fungal attack so far.

The EU on Thursday banned most imports of South African citrus for the rest of the current year. The move came amid fears that a fungal disease found in dozens of shipments could spread to the 28-nation bloc.

Thirty-six citrus consignments had been intercepted earlier this year from the EU's chief summer supplier. Fruit contaminated with the black spot disease is currently not found in Europe at all.

"The introduction of citrus black spot into the EU territory would pose a serious threat to the EU's citrus-producing areas," Brussels said in a statement. "For that reason, it's necessary to further restrict the import."

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The EU executive said the ban would apply to all South African citrus shipments from regions where the disease was present, meaning the bulk of the country's production would be affected. The Commission noted the restrictions would apply only to the 2012-2013 harvest.

But it added they could well be extended into next year, depending on an ongoing study by the bloc's food safety watchdog on the likelihood of the disease taking hold on the European continent.

South Africa exports about 600,000 tons of citrus fruits to Europe annually, including oranges, lemons, limes and tangerines worth some one billion euros ($1.36 billion). There's no know cure for black spot, but fungicides have been reported to show good results in controlling the spread of the disease.

hg/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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