S. African farmers accuse EU of exaggerating citrus "black spot"

S. African farmers accuse EU of exaggerating citrus "black spot"

CAPE TOWN, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- South African farmers on Friday reacted strongly to a ban by the European Union (EU) on imports of South African citrus, accusing the bloc of exaggerating citrus fungus which "is not an issue at all."

"It's totally cosmetic," the South African Citrus Growers Association's Pieter Nortje said in reference to the fungus, also known as "black spot."

The European Commission on Thursday announced a ban on imports of South African citrus due to so-called concerns over "black spot, " a disease that could infect local crops.

The commission said experts from the EU's 28 member states agreed on the emergency ban after "black spot" was found in 36 citrus cargos from South Africa this year.

South African farmers are taking the necessary precautions following the announcement, Nortje said on SA FM's Morning Live.

"It (the fungus) manifests as a small physical 'black spot' on the fruit. In serious cases, it would mean that fruit would not be exported at all. If an orchard or tree is severely infected the yield will go down, but it is being contained in South Africa with the measures that we take that it is not an issue at all," Nortje said.

Exports of citrus from South Africa to EU countries stood at about 600,000 tonnes for 2013, about a third of the bloc's total citrus imports. About 40 percent of South Africa's citrus exports go to the EU, making the bloc one of the country's most important markets.

Government figures showed that South Africa's citrus sector contributes around 6 billion rands (about 600 million U.S. dollars) to South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP). South Africa is the world's biggest exporter of whole oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit.