Decisions on the laws and regulations required to deal with this new threat to the citrus industry in Belize are being made using evidence, scientific data, and expert opinions (from persons who have extensive experience with dealing with HLB-disease in other countries).
When HLB was first discovered to be in Belize in May, one major and immediate concern was the potential for continued spread of the disease through the distribution of HLB-contaminated citrus nursery plants. The only recognized method of producing a plant which is not infected with HLB, in an area where HLB is present, is to produce it in a screened nursery. As none of the nurseries in Belize are currently screened, all plants should be considered potentially infected with the HLB-greening disease.
Another characteristic of HLB disease, that adds further complications for nursery owners and for regulations implemented to prevent disease spread, is that the disease is very difficult, if not impossible, to detect the presence of the disease in very young plants. This is because a young plant could be infected with a very small amount of the bacteria, so small that it is not possible to detect through a lab test. Over time, however, the bacteria multiplies in the plant to a level where the typical leaf symptoms are expressed and where it is then possible to make a detection using a lab test. This process could take a few months to a few years from the time that the plant was initially infected, by the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), with the disease. The current consensus, from those who are experienced with HLB, is that young plants infected with the disease are unlikely to survive long enough to produce fruit. Research by Susan Halbert (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) has shown that that one of the main ways that HLB-greening spread through Florida was due to the movement of citrus nursery plants. Many in Florida believe that, in hindsight, the authorities permitted too much nursery plant movement so that now HLB-greening has spread throughout the State. It is clear, therefore, that the fastest way of moving HLB around Belize is in the back of truck in an infected plant.
So, what has all this got to do with the 'laws & regulations to prevent the spread of HLB'? We know that (i) nursery plants not produced under screen, especially when produced in areas with high incidences of HLB, have a strong likelihood of being infected with HLB and (ii) that as it is not possible to confirm, with any certainty, that such unscreened plants are not infected with HLB. Thus laws and regulations are required to restrict the movement of citrus plants in such a way as to minimize further spread of the disease. This is what the current laws have aimed to achieve. So far this year two Statutory Instruments (SI), an emergency legislation, have been signed by the Minister of Agriculture to deal with HLB-greening disease.