Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Produce Marketing Association Applaud Integrated North American Approach to Shared Tomato Virus Threat
NOGALES, AZ - The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a Federal Order on November 15, 2019 that will go into effect on November 22. This Federal Order will implement new testing protocols and expand visual inspections of tomatoes and peppers shipping to the U.S. from Mexico in order to prevent the spreading of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), which has recently been found in tomatoes imported from Mexico. Following the announcement, esteemed members of our industry celebrated the move as a means of safeguarding the United States from the virus and pursuing an integrated protective solution to this threat via a science-centric approach based on verifiable, transparent data and methodology.
“Thankfully authorities at USDA and the corresponding agencies in Mexico and Canada have been coordinating for several weeks on an integrated approach,” said FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer. “USDA said it urgently wants to establish the science, and we agree. Along with the regulatory agencies, the industry looks forward to learning how we all can help stop this plant disease.”
According to a press release from the FPAA, the virus does not affect humans or animals but is an immediate concern to agriculture, which is why the border inspection of seeds, transplants, and fruit by CBP/APHIS will be implemented by the Federal Order until the agency reviews the science and determines how to best address this issue.
The Produce Marketing Association’s Bob Whitaker, Chief Science and Technology Officer, joined Jungmeyer in supporting the USDA’s latest move. He also outlined the new testing protocols and inspections that address three identified pathways for the transmission of the virus, which include the following:
- Seeds: The Federal Order requires testing for all tomato and pepper seeds that are entering the United States from Mexico. The Mexican government agency, Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASICA) will be testing all shipments of seeds before they are permitted to cross the U.S. border and providing appropriate paperwork to ensure completed testing.
- Transplants: The Federal Order will institute new testing protocols for tomato and pepper transplants being shipped to the U.S. All testing will be performed in Mexico by SENASICA, who will issue paperwork to confirm negative results has been completed. Facilities who receive transplants from Mexico will also perform testing and the order requires the facilities to destroy all positive shipments. Additionally, the USDA will also require Canada to inspect tomatoes and peppers prior to export to the United States.
- Retail: Due to the nature of transmission of the virus, it is unlikely that an infected product at retail will lead to the spread of the disease to greenhouses or fields. For this reason, and because infected fruit is not a public health risk, the USDA has deemed it is not justifiable or practical to regulate the movement of the products. However, due to the volume of tomatoes and peppers that are supplied by Mexico, the Federal Order will expand visual inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at ports of entry and CBP agents will test any fruit showing symptoms of the disease. Any shipments with a positive test will be turned away at the border.
The FPAA also affirmed that it is working with the USDA to minimize any delays or negative business impacts from the inspections and anticipates tomato and pepper supplies remaining robust as producers throughout Mexico begin to harvest their winter crops.
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