Incurable tomato virus found in France for first time

There is no cure for the virus, which was confirmed in France for the first time this week

A highly-contagious plant infection with no known cure - dubbed the “tomato virus” - has been confirmed in a farm in north-west France, making it the first known case ever in the country.

The virus, official name “tomato brown rugose fruit virus” or ToBRFV, was confirmed on a farm in Finistère (Brittany), on Monday February 17 by the minister for agriculture.

A statement said: “We received the results from Anses [health agency l’Agence de Sécurité Sanitaire] on the samples taken from the greenhouses that were suspected in Finistère, and the results were positive; they are indeed contaminated with the virus.”

Now, the farm in question has been quarantined as much as possible, pending destruction of the plants, and the “disinfection of the site in the briefest time possible”, said the ministry statement.

The virus is not dangerous to humans, but can spread extremely quickly and easily among plants, and easily wipe out 100% of produce in any given production site.

It primarily affects tomatoes, peppers, and chilli peppers, and can be spread by seeds, the fruit itself, and via contact with surfaces such as tiles, gloves, and garden tools. It can also live a long time in the open air.

An infected plant will have discoloured leaves, and dark or brown marks on any flowers. Infected plants will not grow properly, and are likely to be seriously deformed and discoloured, with a rough surface texture - making them impossible to sell and unpleasant to eat.

If any plants do appear to be infected, the only way to stop the spread is to rip the plant out at the root and destroy it by burning.

Anses has recommended prevention as the only management method, as there is currently no cure.

The agency also warned against buying seeds online, or from uncertain geographical origins or sources, to avoid unwittingly importing or spreading the virus.

The ministry statement continued: “[The spread of this virus in France] would have major economic consequences on the production line, but also for amateur gardeners.”

France consumes more than 13.9 kilograms of tomatoes per household every year, and in 2018, the country produced 712,000 tonnes of tomatoes for sale.

The infection comes barely two weeks after Anses warned that the virus was “at high risk” of spreading into France.

It was first noted in Israel in 2014, and found in tomato crops in Mexico in 2018. It has also spread to the United States, Germany, and Italy. In 2019, it was confirmed in the UK, Netherlands, and Greece.

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