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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

Widespread infection threatening U.S. tomatoes


CONCORD, N.H. - Tomato plants have been removed from stores in half a dozen states as an infectious plant disease makes its earliest and most widespread appearance ever in the eastern United States.

Late blight - the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s - occurs sporadically in the Northeast, but this year's outbreak is more severe for two reasons: Infected plants have been widely distributed by big-box retail stores and rainy weather has hastened the spores' airborne spread.

The disease is not harmful to humans. Meg McGrath, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, calls the disease "worse than the Bubonic Plague for plants." Tomato plants have been removed from Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, and Kmart stores in all six New England states, plus New York. Late blight also was identified along the East Coast except Georgia, and in Alabama, West Virginia, and Ohio.

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