Scientists Accused of Spreading Tree-Killing Disease
'We are shocked; the accusations are crazy'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2015 5:15 PM CST
Red crosses are painted on olive trees' logs that should be cut in the effort to contain an outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa in Italy.   (AP Photo/Max Frigione, Ansa)

(Newser) – Nine scientists—plus one public official—tasked by the EU with preventing the spread of a plant-killing disease in Italy have been accused of actually spreading the disease, polluting the environment, and "disfiguring natural beauty" by Italian authorities, Nature reports. "We are shocked," one scientist says. "The accusations are crazy." According to the BBC, the EU ordered the destruction of olive trees infected by Xylella fastidiosa—which first appeared in Italy in 2013—as well as thousands of healthy trees in order to create a 6-mile buffer zone to keep the disease from spreading. On Friday, Italian authorities ordered a stop to those efforts, saying there is no connection between Xylella fastidiosa and the dying trees. Phys.org reports Italian prosecutors claim the EU has "inaccurate facts" about the disease and is actually making things worse.

Farmers and environmental activists have been fighting against the destruction of the olive trees—some of which are more than a century old—and Italian courts have been ruling in their favor, Nature reports. According to Phys.org, more than 1,500 trees have been destroyed to fight Xylella fastidiosa, which is deadly for more than 200 plant species. Italian prosecutors haven't released any evidence against the accused scientists but claim the disease may have gotten loose during a scientific workshop or during experiments, Nature reports. Scientists say it's more likely the disease came from plants imported from Costa Rica. The EU had already been accusing Italy of dragging its feet on handling Xylella fastidiosa, and now that looks unlikely to change. (An Italian town is fighting smog by banning pizza.)