Lemon on tree Todd Fitchette
U.S. lemon growers sued the federal government over an import rule allowing Argentina to ship lemons to the United States.

US lemon producers sue feds over Argentine import rule

Lawsuit challenges federal rulemaking that led to decision to allow imported lemons from Argentina

The U.S. Citrus Science Council filed suit against the federal government over a recent ruling to allow lemon imports from Argentina on the grounds that it exposes U.S. citrus growers to possible introduction of invasive pests and plant disease.

The suit, filed in the Federal District Court in Fresno, comes after citrus industry officials lobbied to keep them out.

On May 1 the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it would not extend the import ban beyond May 26. The U.S. lemon industry was shocked by the move as it came just ahead of scheduled visit to Washington D.C. by California citrus industry leaders.

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen, one of the citrus leaders working to prevent the Argentine lemon imports, said the lawsuit is not “injunctive,” meaning the ruling can still enacted by the federal government while the lawsuit is heard.

A statement from the U.S. Citrus Science Council and its board chairman Richard Pidduck suggests APHIS is bound by federal law to reduce the risk of disseminating plant pests and noxious weeds in the U.S. by imported goods, and base its decisions “on sound science.”

Pidduck is a Santa Paula area lemon grower and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

According to Pidduck, the rule is being challenged on allegations the federal government violated its own policies on how rules are changed. The statement says the citrus industry asked to see information from a 2015 USDA visit to Argentina that led to the rule change, but the government has not provided that information.

In the end, U.S. citrus officials say that “incomplete science and political considerations led to a flawed rulemaking process.”

The first hearing for the suit is scheduled for July 27.

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