South Africa’s citrus exporters are yet to tally the full impact of a recent EU vote on imported fruit. Oranges from Africa must now be shipped to European countries under new cold storage rules that hold potentially disastrous consequences for South Africa.
The industry’s worst fear was realised on 25 May when the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Foods and Feeds (SCoPAFF) approved changes to the cold treatment regime for oranges imported from countries where false codling moth (FCM) is present.
Under this new protocol, the European Commission will demand precooling at 5 °C at the port of departure and a treatment in transit at between -1 and 2 °C for 25 days. By 2023 it will be allowed to choose between two options: a cold treatment of between -1 and 0 °C for 16 days or another between -1 and 2 °C for 20 days.
The current protocol for South African oranges entails a 24-day protocol with shipping options based on continuous orchard and pack house monitoring for FCM.
In a previous Food For Mzansi article, Deon Joubert, special Citrus Growers Association envoy for market access and EU matters, said that the regulations would pose a serious threat to the continuity of orange imports from South Africa into Europe.
“In particular, it will prevent the import of all organic and non-chemically treated oranges, as well as several important cultivars that do not tolerate this temperature. This will cause important gaps in the availability of excellent quality oranges to EU consumers through the European summer, which has relied on this supply [over] the past decades.”
South African exports are regarded as the most important source of citrus for the EU during the European summer, with a value of over 1 billion euro.
‘Unnecessary and unjustified’
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA), tells Food For Mzansi that the organisation has taken note of the decision, which is yet to be officially published by the European Union.
“While we await the publication of the final text, the CGA is engaging with government and industry stakeholders to determine the impact of these new requirements on local growers and the most appropriate next steps, which it will communicate in due course.”
The CGA believes that the EU’s decision is unnecessary and unjustified. This, because South Africa has been enforcing a rigorous risk management system over the past few years. The system is regarded as highly effective in protecting European production from the threat of pest or disease, including FCM, Joubert says.
“When it comes to the 800 000 tonnes of citrus imports to the EU annually, FCM interceptions have been consistently low over the past three years – 19 (2019), 14 (2020) and 15 (2021) interceptions respectively,” Joubert says.
South Africa has also disputed six of its EU interceptions last year, as the overwhelming expert and scientifically reviewed evidence indicated that the larvae was dead and posed no risk.
This was in stark contrast to FCM interceptions from other importing countries: 53, 129 and 58 interceptions respectively over the last three years. “Yet, no measures have been proposed against these countries, which makes the new regulations proposed against South Africa even more inexplicable,” Joubert says.
It is expected that the decision to implement the new cold storage treatment requirements will be processed urgently to see it enforced before the end of June.
“In South Africa,” Joubert cautions, “these new regulations will put the sustainability of the industry at risk and the 140 000 mostly rural jobs it sustains.”
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