Tomatoes infected by the tomato brown rugose fruit virus show uneven coloring. ( Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services )

(UPDATED, 2 p.m.)  New restrictions have been placed on tomato and pepper trade to protect U.S. crops from the prevent the introduction of tomato brown rugose fruit virus.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a news release Nov. 15 that the agency is taking “immediate action” to prevent the introduction of tomato brown rugose fruit virus into the U.S. and protect U.S. tomato and pepper production worth more than $2.3 billion annually.

Tomato brown rugose fruit virus can cause severe fruit loss in tomatoes and peppers, according to the release, and is easily spread through the use of contaminated tools, hands, and plant-to-plant contact. It was first reported in tomatoes in Israel in 2014. Since then, it has been reported in China, Mexico,

Germany (eradicated), Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Turkey, and the Netherlands. The virus was detected and eradicated from a California tomato greenhouse in 2018.

The agency said it has issued a Federal Order imposing restrictions on imports of tomato and pepper seed lots and transplants from all countries where the virus exists as well as restrictions on tomato and pepper fruit imported from Mexico, Israel, and the Netherlands. Because Canada imports tomato and pepper fruit from Mexico that may be re-exported to this country, USDA said it will also require Canada to inspect tomato and pepper fruit to ensure it is free of disease symptoms prior to export to the U.S.
All the actions will be effective Nov. 22, according to the agency.

In addition, the release said APHIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will increase inspections of tomato and pepper seed, plant, and fruit imports entering from countries where the virus is known to occur and Canada, and will take action to keep any infected products out of the country.

The USDA said it will:

  • Require all tomato and pepper seed lots imported from countries where the virus exists to be officially tested and certified free of the disease;
  • Require all tomato and pepper transplants imported from countries where the virus exists to be officially tested and certified free of the disease;
  • Require all tomato and pepper fruit imported from Mexico, Israel, and the Netherlands to be inspected at the point of origin to ensure it is free of disease symptoms; and 
  • Require Canada to inspect all tomato and pepper fruit prior to export to the United States to ensure it is free of disease symptoms.

The release said Customs and Border Protection will increase inspections at U.S. ports of entry to ensure imported tomato and pepper fruit entering from Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands does not show any signs of disease upon arrival.

The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas said Nov. 18 that the group supports a science-based approach to dealing with the virus, based on “verifiable, transparent data and methodology.”

“Thankfully authorities at USDA and the corresponding agencies in Mexico and Canada have been coordinating for several weeks on an integrated approach,” Lance Jungmeyer, president of the FPAA, said in a news release. “USDA said it urgently wants to establish the science, and we agree. Along with the regulatory agencies, the industry looks forward to learning how we all can help stop this plant disease.”

The FPAA said in the release it is working with USDA to minimize any delays or negative business impacts from the inspections. FPAA said in the release that tomato and pepper supplies should remain robust as producers throughout Mexico being to harvest their winter crops.  


 

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