Italy is internationally known mainly for three things: its cuisine, its abysmal politics, and its vistas and beaches. In recent months, a series of events has developed that involve those three aspects. Activists, farmers and a government inquiry have shed some light on what could be a potential covert assault by the biotech industry on one of the pillars of Italy’s culture and culinary heritage: olive trees.
The area of Salento, in Puglia, is home to some of the most ancient olive orchards on Earth. The centuries-old trees are not only considered the property of the orchard owners, but also the collective heritage of the Italian people. Their presence has provided a livelihood to thousands of people for millenia. In recent months, however, a phenomenon called CoDiRo, or Rapid Complex Desiccation of Olive Trees, has caused many of the trees to dry out. Among the causes of this condition there could be a bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa, which attacks, among others, the xylem in citrus trees and grape vines, dries them and their outgrowths, and often prevents the creation of fruits. Before 2014, there was no recorded case of these bacteria infecting olive trees.