Protocols requiring stepped up fumigation for Peruvian asparagus that went into effect in December 2010 have been repealed. Previous protocols went back into effect Aug. 5, partly because of overtime expenses at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Customs brokers in Miami said the USDA notified them of the change Aug. 4, following meetings that involved government officials, customs brokers and importers. By reverting to the previous protocols, the asparagus from Peru is no longer subject to observation requirements of Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fumigation and Rodenticide Act.

“The USDA told us at meetings that their overtime billing for all of last year was $1.5 million. It was $1.6 million through July this year partly because of the observation time required by Section 18,” said Nelly Yunta, general manager of Customized Brokers Inc., Miami.

The new treatment requirements — 4 pounds of methyl bromide for 2.5 hours — means that the treatment no longer falls under Section 18 of FIFRA, said Alyn Kiel, public affairs specialist for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“Section 18 requires that APHIS monitor the aeration process,” Kiel said. “This should speed up the treatment process and avoid some of the quality issues that importers were experiencing during the waiting period at the ports of entry.”

Yunta and Frank Ramos, president of The Perishable Specialist customs brokerage in Miami, both said the change would be as good for the asparagus as it is for USDA’s budget.

“By doing away with Section 18 it means the asparagus can be processed more quickly and that means longer shelf life,” Ramos said. “The treatment time has been increased to 2 1/2 hours, but the extra half hour won’t delay shipments nearly as long as the Section 18 requirements.”

Ramos said his firm handles about 5 million boxes of Peruvian asparagus annually.

Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, also applauded the change back to the previous treatment protocols.

“USDA and PAIA have been working together on (the) protocols,” Lleras said, adding that the changes “will ensure quality asparagus (for) U.S. retailers, consumers and foodservice alike.”

According to the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service, 192.8 million pounds of Peruvian asparagus came to the U.S. in 2010. The FAS shows the total amount of fresh asparagus imported to the U.S. for 2010 was 377 million pounds. Mexico exported 180 million pounds of fresh asparagus to the U.S. in 2010.