More than half the world’s olive oil comes from Spain’s olive trees, but deadly bacteria found in the country’s eastern region of Valencia this week could devastate production, according to Newsweek.
The incurable Xylella fastidiosa bacterium was found in 12 almond trees after farmers noticed a decline in yield. It has yet to spread to olive trees in the region, but all those within a 300-foot radius will be destroyed, per European regulations.
The olive tree disease was first detected in Italy in 2013, and has since been found on the French island of Corsica as well as mainland France. Up to a million trees in Italy were killed by the bacterium last year, forcing officials to raze trees in an effort to contain the disease.
Spread by insects, the European Union considers Xylella fastidiosa to be “one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide, causing a variety of diseases, with huge economic impact for agriculture." The EU is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, accounting for 73% of global production.
Spain produces 56% of the world’s olive oil supply. The next four top-producing countries — Italy, Greece, Tunisia and Morocco — together produce just half of Spain’s annual volume, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. U.S. olive oil accounts for just 0.6% of Spain’s olive oil production.
At the moment, it is hoped that strict European guidelines on destroying olive trees in the vicinity of confirmed cases will slow the spread of the disease. However, EU olive oil production is already under pressure, according to the International Olive Council, and was down 42% from 2014 to 2015 compared to the previous year. As a result, producer prices rose nearly 80% during the period. The higher price of production has been passed on to consumers.
If these trends continue, it is likely that shoppers will turn to other healthy oils, including flaxseed, grapeseed or hemp, but these all contain more polyunsaturated fat and less monounsaturated fat than olive oil. Polyunsaturated fat is known to decrease LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood, while the monounsaturated kind is thought to be even more beneficial, as it also raises levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.
Other oils that are high in monounsaturated fat include avocado, canola, peanut and sesame. However, none of these contains quite as much as olive oil. Some, such as sesame oil, tend to be more expensive and more strongly flavored than olive oil.