The phaseout of the fumigant methyl bromide may position irradiation as an emerging phytosanitary option for U.S. fresh produce exporters.
That is the view of Cory Lunde, policy analyst and project manager for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., after participating in a workshop on irradiation in late March.
The March 25-26 workshop in Orange, Calif., called “Opportunities in Phytosanitary Irradiation for Fresh Produce Workshop,” was sponsored by Chapman University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Lunde said the workshop, the fourth annual workshop on that topic at Chapman University and co-sponsored by the USDA, included presentations of research that compared the shelf life of product treated by methyl bromide and irradiation.
Methyl bromide was largely phased out by the U.S. in 2005, but the U.S. government provides limited critical use exemptions to eliminate quarantine pests and for agricultural users with no feasible alternatives.
Lunde gave a presentation on the importance of exports for Western agriculture and a presentation by Chapman University’s Anuradha Prakash looked at irradiation’s effect on the shelf life and quality of cherries and blueberries, he said.
California’s farm exports totaled more than $18 billion in 2012, supporting about 125,000 jobs, Lunde said in his presentation.
But a survey of Western Growers reveals sanitary and phytosanitary issues — along with competition, payment risks, perishability of product, tariff rates, pricing and logistics — limit export potential of the state.
For example, Lunde said the European grapevine moth and the light brown apple moth prevent exports of grapes into South Africa, while fire blight prevents apples from being shipped to China, Australia and Australia. The spotted wing drosophila prevents exports of stone fruit to Australia, Brown rot on cherries requires that fruit exported to Australia is fumigated with methyl bromide, and the European Union imposes restrictions and inspections cherries can be shipped there.
Peaches, nectarines and apricots sent to Mexico must undergo close inspection to prevent the spread of the Oriental fruit fly.
So far, Lunde said produce industry exporters have not pursued irradiation as long as they have access to more traditional treatment options, including methyl bromide. As that fumigant is phased out, more produce exporters may weigh the benefits of the process, he said.
“Irradiation could be the future, but it is a conversation we are just starting to have,” he said. Consumer and industry acceptance are issues that must be faced, he said. “I think it can be accomplished, but it will be a long-term project,” he said.
Lunde said about 70 attended the March 25-26 event, including USDA officials, irradiation providers, academic leaders and a few local producers.