(March 29) Responding to Florida avocado grower concerns about immature imported fruit in the marketplace, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced March 18 an improved inspection and varietal verification process for imported avocados.
The new program will ensure that imported avocados meet avocado import requirements under Section 8e of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.
The Homestead-based Florida Avocado Administrative Committee administers a marketing order for 61 varieties of avocados grown in that state.
SIZES, PICK DATES
Those regulations, relating to minimum fruit size and pick dates, also apply to imports of those same varieties, but Florida marketers believe that many imported avocados are mislabeled to avoid the regulation. Imported varieties not grown in Florida are not subject to regulation.
The USDA’s new program, already in effect, will be most active in May and September when domestic handlers and importers may be shipping avocado varieties in advance scheduled maturity dates of avocados regulated by the marketing order.
Avocados will be scrutinized at inspection, and lots suspected of being mislabeled for variety will undergo DNA testing.
USDA believes that the prospect of DNA testing will provide a strong deterrent to mislabeling or misbranding, resulting in maximized adherence to the maturity schedule specified in the Florida avocado marketing order.
Gail Knodel, administrator of the marketing order, said the agency told growers that USDA inspectors will receive additional training in identifying avocado varieties. That is needed for the health of both domestic and imported fruit sales, she said.
“The reason for the (regulation) is to have mature fruit; if it doesn’t ripen and it’s horrible, consumers are not going to buy it again,” she said.
Last year, Florida produced about 660,000 55-pound bushels of avocados. This year, the committee estimates production at close to 1.2 million bushels, said Alan Flinn, compliance director for the committee.