(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 30) A new regulation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture limits aflatoxin on imported pistachios to the same levels required of domestic growers, resolving a longstanding fair trade objection by American Pistachio Growers.
The rule from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service limits the naturally occurring mold to 15 parts per billion and requires an inspection certificate from an accredited lab. It took effect Aug. 27.
Aflatoxin, also found in items like corn, peanuts and dried figs, is considered a cancer risk if exposure is long-term. No immediate illness results.
“The industry has been working on this issue for at least a decade,” said Richard Matoian, director of Fresno, Calif.-based American Pistachio Growers. “We wanted to ensure that all product, whether produced here or brought into the U.S., adheres to the exact same standard so that consumers can be assured pistachios are safe and nutritious.”
The regulation brings imports into compliance with World Trade Organization rules, according to the trade association, which worked with the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on its implementation.
Prior to September 2011 when sanctions against Iran took effect, it was the top importer of pistachios to the U.S. and the world’s No. 2 producer. Turkey still exports to the U.S., as has Syria, but that business has likely been harmed by civil war.
In the U.S., California produces 99% of pistachios, which are also grown in Arizona and New Mexico.
“One of the things that prevented this (new rule) from going into effect earlier is the fact that pistachios are produced in multiple states,” Matoian said. “In order to implement a national rule, all the commodity boards had to pass a vote.”
Even with the U.S. rule change, the European Union still keeps a tighter lid on aflatoxin at two or four parts per billion, depending on the nation.