The European Union (EU) has banned curry leaves from Sri Lanka based on a report published in a scientific journal about a ‘citrus greening’ bacterium which allegedly infected plants that came out in 2013, a senior official of the Department of Agriculture said.
National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS), Additional Director Dr. W. A. R. T. Wickramaarachchi of the Department of Agriculture told the Daily Mirror the bacterium infection was reported in 2013 and it was published in many scientific journals.
“Based on those journal reports the EU amended its rules and came up with new regulations in 2014 with regards to the potential biodiversity threats which can have an effect on other countries. Before its 2014 update was finalised, the EU found this bacterium infection among plants of the citrus family. The ban was imposed for the protection of biodiversity in those countries,” Dr. Wickramaarachchi said.
“Candidatus Liberibacter Bacterium' agents were reported in our curry leaves at harvesting time. The curry leaf is a member of the Rutaceae family also known as the citrus family,” Dr. Wickramaarachchi said. However, he said a recent survey which was conducted showed that there are no ‘citrus greening’ bacterium infections.
“Based on the findings, new reports were published but it would take a long time to get the ban on Sri Lankan curry leaves exported to EU countries removed. We have already requested the EU to lift the ban based on this report. This is because 99.9 per cent of plant infections do not affect humans as is the case of this citrus greening bacterium disease,” Dr. Wickramaarachchi said.
He said Sri Lanka earns a huge revenue by exporting curry leaves and added that many Sri Lankan expatriates were in the habit of taking curry leaves with them when travelling abroad, including to EU countries, as curry leaves are associated with Sri Lankan tradition and food culture.
He advised the public not to take our plants, herbs and other items that effects biodiversity out of the country or bring them into the country without proper Quarantine National Plant Quarantine certificates.
He also advised the authorities not to publish any reports relating to Sri Lanka's biodiversity without proper supervision or authorisation as it might damage the image of the country.
Fresh curry leaves are no longer permitted to be exported from Sri Lanka to Italy, Cyprus, Greece and Malta because the citrus greening disease had already caused billions of pounds worth of damage to citrus trees in countries outside the EU. This decision has been taken to protect Europe’s fruit industry,” he said.
According to the final report of an audit carried out in Sri Lanka from February 3 to 13, 2015, the EU said new amendments of the directive such as that related to curry leaves, were not taken into consideration. (Chaturanga Samarawickrama)