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Germy geraniums call for quarantine



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The disease is not expected to affect the supply of geraniums for consumers.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Six Ohio greenhouses and four in Pennsylvania are facing quarantines after federal authorities discovered their geranium stock had been contaminated by a destructive bacterial plant disease.

Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture believe the bacterium, known as Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2, was imported by accident on geranium cuttings from Kenya. The bacteria kill geraniums and can damage tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant and tobacco.

Consumers are unlikely to notice the problem, said Stephen Carver of the Ohio Florists Association, because it is affecting a very small percentage of this year's geranium crop.

Expects to halt it

He said he is confident that the USDA inspection and quarantine process will halt the spread of the bacteria and make it very unlikely that contaminated geraniums will reach consumers.

"There are plenty of geraniums out there, and they're as good as they've ever been," Carver said. "The ones that ain't, they're being kiboshed."

Ralstonia solanacearum, also known as southern wilt, bacterial wilt, and brown rot of potato, is listed in the Agriculture Bioterrorism Act of 2002 because of the way it spreads and its potential to affect the food supply.

However, the USDA does not believe its introduction into the United States was intentional.

Carver pointed to a USDA Web site that explains that the bacteria were brought in as a result of unsanitary greenhouse practices in a Kenya facility, which caused latent infections on plant material exported to the United States.

USDA inspectors are using shipping records to track down the contaminated geraniums, he said, and have discovered confirmed cases in 26 states and 103 greenhouses.

Officials are not releasing the names of the greenhouses.

When infected geraniums are discovered, inspectors place hold orders on the product to prevent any sale or distribution of potentially infected geraniums or host material. The product is then stored for a specified period.

Disinfection necessary

If the bacterium is confirmed during that waiting period, the greenhouse owner is ordered to destroy the infected plants and to disinfect the growing facility. Inspectors oversee the destruction of plants and the disinfection of facilities.

The bacteria can be transmitted through soil, contaminated irrigation water, equipment, or personnel, and they also spread very easily by transplanting infected plants and propagative materials. They are not spread from plant to plant or by the splashing of water and are not spread through the air.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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