California groups oppose Clementine import plan

The group, which includes California Grape and Tree Fruit League, California Citrus Mutual and Western Growers Association among others, say the import rules are “fatally flawed on several fronts.”

Live Medfly larvae were found in fruit shipped in December to several locations in the country last December, including Northern and Southern California. USDA suspended imports and now has proposed a treatment protocol leading to a resumption of imports.

USDA proposes to resume importation of Spanish Clementines if the fruit is cold-treated en route to the U.S, and provided that other pre-treatment and post-treatment requirements are met.

The agricultural coalition based its concerns on work by scientific experts who reviewed USDA’s rule. They contend there are significant scientific flaws in the risk assessment, making California vulnerable to Medfly importation.

Bill Pauli, North Coast wine grape grower and Farm Bureau president, said, “USDA is being asked to deliver an expedient political decision and forego the science necessary to support the objective. That’s a path we cannot support.”

“First and foremost, all USDA work is citrus-oriented when the impact of the Mediterranean fruit fly is disastrous to more than 250 host commodities produced in California,” said Richard Matoian, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. “USDA has failed to take into consideration the devastation a Medfly infestation can cause to peaches, plums, nectarines, table grapes and other commodities represented by the League. That is inexcusable.”

Matt McInerney, executive vice president of the Western Growers Association, said inconsistencies in the rule are troubling.

“USDA offers the Spanish grower a much shorter timeframe in which pre-clearance activities must occur while the American grower is subject to a year-round program with government oversight,” said McInerney. “The Spanish industry is allowed to use a Medfly trap deemed unsuitable for domestic agriculture.”

“The USDA arbitrarily extended the length of cold treatment required for shipping without scientific foundation and used a timeframe cited in a Spanish legal document that was already being met, which didn’t work,” coalition leaders said

“The USDA risk assessment ignored other internal reports, focused solely on citrus and was calculated incorrectly,” said McInerney. “These are just a few of the problems in our view, any one of which would threaten our members’ ability to harvest and market their crops domestically and around the world.”

California Citrus Mutual Chief Executive Joel Nelsen acknowledged that USDA’s proposed rule created an unexpected result.

“USDA has managed to accomplish an objective many of us only talk about. The horticultural industry from California to Florida is united in their opposition and parallel comments have been filed by entities in Florida and across the country,” said Nelsen.

The comment period concluded Sept. 9. The USDA will review the record and respond to the issues raised.

“From our perspective, this rule has to be re-drafted because the threat is real, the public relations and economic costs are unthinkable and in the final analysis the science just isn’t there,” said Matoian.

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