Tom Karst, National Editor
Tom Karst, National Editor

Main Street America thinks Chinese apple imports are a really bad idea.

I say this because I have been noticing a steady stream of comments to the www.regulations.gov website from non-industry, everyday folk who appear to be perplexed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to allow imports of Chinese apples to U.S. shores.

The comment period for the proposed rule ended Sept. 16.

Of course, Americans who actually take the time to comment on proposed federal regulations — whether the topic is school lunches, Obamacare, e-cigarettes, the produce safety rule, or a myriad of other regulations — bring their provincial biases and unfiltered opinions to the debate at hand.

This is refreshing to see, this proof that Americans who are not paid lobbyists are actually still paying attention and putting in their two cents on the stream of the never-ending advance of government regulations.

In regard to Chinese apples, some Average Joes and Jills can’t figure out what the Obama administration is up to now.

To many, it is an all-caps outrage that the American government actually wants to allow Chinese apples into a country already well-blessed with plenty of apples.

Here are a few excerpts from the comments submitted to the USDA by our exasperated fellow citizens:

 

  •  “This is disgraceful to see. Our country and president say we should support local economies and local business yet wants to import apples when we as a country grow more apples than we can consume. This is will only hurt out agriculture industries and our localized food systems.”

  •  “This is outrageous!! As if the American farmer/grower doesn’t have enough problems making ends meet, you want to allow apples from China?? Who is being paid off to pass such a thing? We need to support our own country and growers rather than put more money and allow hiring cheap workers when our own people need our help!! Stop the insanity!!”

  •  “I did not have time for my attorney to go over all the gibberish (“the regulatory document”) ... but ... No! No more! ... all who sign on to this rule should be removed from their position and prosecuted as criminals. I don’t allow edibles for my pets from China I don’t want anything from that country in the food I feed my family! What is the matter with all of you? It’s like I live in the twilight zone ... NO! NO! NO! Apparently all of you in charge have been desensitized to how ridiculous all this sounds ... we have become a gluttonous society as it is and don’t need to import apples, of all things, from China!”

  •  “I am against allowing importation of apples from China into our country. Many people and farms in New York state rely on growing and selling a delicious homegrown apple here in our country. Please do not enable other countries to block our own people from their livelihood!”

  •  “I am opposed to allowing the importation of fresh apples to the U.S. from China. This will have a negative economic impact on U.S. farmers, will increase risk of foreign pests and diseases to U.S. agriculture and will increase risk of chemical and pesticide poisoning to our consumers. These negative impacts are not necessary as we already have our own supply. BUY LOCAL.”

 

And so on. So, as the USDA considers all these comments from concerned Americans, is there any chance that the agency pauses and reflects on the fact that many average citizens are flummoxed why the agency would open the door for imported apples, “of all things, from China!”

When the agriculture secretary sees this outpouring of sentiment, will he knock his underlings upside the head and say, “Stop the insanity and drop this rule!”?

No way, I’m afraid. The USDA will sift through these apparently commonsense sentiments and put them promptly in the trash. And, as much as it goes against my populist instincts, the comments should be ignored.

These well-intentioned but uninformed citizens are bringing a plastic knife to a gun fight. They don’t know the science behind the rule, nor do they have an idea about the give and take involved in knocking down trade barriers for U.S. apples seeking access to China.

In fact, as I write this column I received an e-mail stating that red and golden delicious apples from the U.S. may be close to being cleared for export to China after having been shut out since August 2012 because of phytosanitary issues.

Chinese inspectors were in Washington state in mid-September, touring packinghouses and checking out industry phytosanitary safeguards with an apparent view toward restoring access.

I wonder if Chinese bureaucrats will face criticism from “Main Street China” if they move to give U.S. apples access. Not with the same gusto and emotion the USDA has seen, I’d wager. And that’s the beauty of our American system.

Coincidence or not, it appears U.S. apples may regain access to China at about the same time that the comment period on the U.S. proposal to allow Chinese apple imports concludes.

In the end, the gain from having access to the billion-plus-strong market in China is more important to U.S. apple growers than the pain of allowing comparatively few imports of Chinese apples to the U.S.

While the U.S. apple industry has provided the USDA technical comments on pest concerns about the agency’s proposal to allow Chinese imports, the bottom line is that U.S. growers can live with imports from China if they can export their own apples to China.

Going forward, Main Street America should restrict its chagrin to school lunch standards, Obamacare and the value of e-cigaretttes. They are out of their depth on the apple import and export trade.

tkarst@thepacker.com

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