(Image: Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Source: Weed Science Society of America).
According to the Society for a Ragweed-Free Hungary (it really exists!), ragweed covers about 12% of the country. About one million Hungarians (a quarter of the population) are allergic to ragweed and the country spends about $170 million a year in pharmaceuticals and hospital visits to treat ragweed allergies.
Ragweed is a North American native, and invaded Central Europe during the first World War. In the late 1990s, as land was privatized, ragweed took off as an invasive weed and now the most infested countries are Hungary, Croatia and parts of France and Italy.
Although Hungary even invested in a satellite imaging system to locate contaminated areas, some Hungarians say the new regulations will be ineffective because there will not be enough police around to provide enforcement during peak ragweed season. That's the traditional European vacation season.
According to a report published by Bloomberg, Budapest resident, Janos Soltesz, bought a goat in 1988 because the authorities were, even then, bugging him about the ragweed on his property. Now he has 48 goats -- who, nevertheless, still have plenty of ragweed to eat.
Apparently goats produce a biological antidote to the allergen that affects so many people. One witty Budapest observer observed that perhaps the government ought to look into ways to cross-breed immune goats with people.
"Sneezing Hungarians Battle Ragweed Plants With Mowers, Goats," Bloomberg.com, Aug. 19, 2005.
Virginia Tech's Weed ID Guide for Common Ragweed: Ambrosia artemisiifolia
"Ambrosia (Ragweed) in Europe," by Ondrej Rybncek, Siegfried Jäger, Allergy & Clinical Immunology International - Journal of the World Allergy Organization, March 2001.