During fiscal year 2012, about 140,000 18-wheelers crossed the border, and the FDA had only four inspectors to clear the trucks.
The number of inspectors has since increased to eight, but truckloads also have climbed to 150,000 annually, McClung said.
“The FDA is making it very clear that in the future they will not have the personnel on the borders to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act,” he said.
Some have suggested that the produce industry assess itself possibly $20 per truck to hire more inspectors and speed clearance, McClung said.
But he said that doesn’t sit well with some, who say they don’t want to pay again for a service the government should already be performing.
But other importers have a different opinion.
“Others say if a $20,000 load of papayas is on the import lot and getting it cleared costs $20, that’s not such a difficult decision to make,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
Audience member Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., agreed.
“They view the border as a checkout lane, and they’re going to charge us money,” he said.
Jungmeyer said he also is concerned about increasing delays at the Mariposa Port of Entry, Nogales, as the number of lanes for commercial vehicles has increased to eight from four.
The lanes are part of an overall multimillion-dollar port expansion project funded by economic stimulus dollars.
FDA inspectors typically work 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., yet most produce loads cross between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., he said.
“Usually, it sits there for a day just for visual inspections,” Jungmeyer said. Microbial testing, which should take three to five days, currently takes 10-11 days.
“The FDA has a chronic shortage of lab capacity,” he said.
Jungmeyer said he expects delays to only grow as the safety modernization act requires additional testing of imports.