EFSA says pests could pose risk to French overseas banana growers

The EFSA Plant Health Panel has adopted 15 scientific opinions on banana plant pests. Following a request from the European Commission, EFSA evaluated risks posed by banana pests to the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique and Réunion, all of which are banana-producing areas. Based on documentation provided by the French authorities and additional scientific and technical data, the Panel concluded that most of the pests studied could pose a threat to the food production in these overseas departments and should be considered candidates for the EU list of harmful organisms[1]. This would mean that these pests could then be subject to EU plant health measures. The organisms examined by the Panel are reported to be causing damage to banana crops in different parts of South and Central America, Asia and Africa.

Among the pests studied by the Panel was Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV), the cause of one of the most dangerous banana plant diseases. Of the virus diseases affecting bananas worldwide, BBTV is by far the most serious and can have a devastating effect on crops. Plants infected with BBTV can be spotted easily as their leaves curl up and stand erect. More importantly, the plant in question produces small and distorted fruit or no fruit at all. The BBTV is transmitted by an insect, the banana aphid, or by infected planting material[2], often imported by banana growers to populate new plantations.

BBTV is currently present in many Asian and African countries, as well as Oceania and Hawaii. The EFSA Plant Health Panel concluded that the phytosanitary risk associated with BBTV is extremely high. The Panel considers that there is a high probability that the virus could enter, establish itself and spread in the French overseas departments where it is currently not present. If it were to do so, it would cause severe losses to local banana plantations.

Following the same request from the European Commission, EFSA has also studied the risk posed by other pests to citrus crops grown in the French overseas departments. The scientific opinions on citrus pests are currently being finalised by the Plant Health Panel in view of their publication in May.

For more information:

[1] Council Directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000 on protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community
[2] Banana planting material includes vitroplants, suckers and corm pieces (Corm, or rhizome, is the branched, underground stem of the banana plant. A sucker is an outgrowth of a vegetative bud on the banana corm). Vitroplants are produced through micropropagation, the practice of rapidly multiplying stock plant material to produce a large number of progeny plants using modern plant tissue culture methods.