PARIS (Reuters) - The EU's top health official called on Italy to do more to contain a bacterium that has ravaged olive groves in part of the country and for which no treatment currently exists.
The Puglia region in southern Italy was the first area in the European Union to be hit by the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen in 2013, also dubbed "olive tree leprosy".
The bacterium can also damage other crops including vines.
"Italy should do more in eliminating infected trees, otherwise economic consequences will really be very big," EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said.
"Xylella fastidiosa is the biggest phytosanitary crisis confronting the EU for many years," he told reporters following a meeting in Paris with agriculture officials from EU countries.
The EU's focus on culling trees has met local resistance in Puglia and been challenged in Italian courts.
Italy's agriculture ministry did not have immediate comment on Andriukaitis' remarks.
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told reporters that eradicating outbreaks of the pathogen remained the priority, but where this was not possible containment measures should be imposed.
France is among European countries to have detected isolated cases of Xylella fastidiosa in ornamental and wild plants in southern France and the island of Corsica, although it has not yet seen contamination of commercial crops like olives or vines.
Friday's meeting in Paris saw 10 countries including Italy sign an agreement to step up monitoring and research into the bacterium, which is spread by insects.
Andriukaitis said research into treatments against the pathogen might lead to the development of new pesticides.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Arthur Connan; Additional reporting by Isla Binni in Rome; Editing by Geert De Clercq)