Beginning in mid-April, the USDA authorized the importation of five types of commercially produced fresh citrus fruit from China into the continental US. According to the agency, after thorough analysis, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service scientists determined that pummelo, ‘nanfeng’ honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange, and satsuma mandarin fruit from China could be safely imported into the US under a systems approach to protect against the introduction of plant pests. Both industry leaders and growers criticized the move. While the imports were believed to have a small market impact, at least initially, most were concerned about the potential of invasive pest and disease threats it posed. The fact COVID-19 originated out of China only heightens the sentiment.
Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried came out strongly in opposition to the move and called on USDA to reconsider. She argued that her opposition was two-fold. “After all that Florida’s industry has overcome and the current challenges facing our farmers, to put our agriculture industry at risk by allowing both the introduction of additional invasive species, as well as increased foreign competition, is beyond misguided,” she noted in a letter to the agency.
The fear of invasive pests from China is not unfounded. A 2019 risk management assessment by USDA found that 22 pests and diseases of quarantine significance were noted from China that could follow the pathway of introduction into the continental US. These included three different mites, a leaf miner, eight different Bactrocera fruit flies, Asian corn borer, Asian citrus psyllid, a bacterial pathogen causing citrus greening, a bacterial pathogen causing yellowing, a complex of bacteria causing citrus canker, three different fungi (one causing citrus black spot), citrus bent leaf viroid, and Satsuma dwarf virus.
All 22 are quarantinable pests and pose a significant risk to Florida’s citrus industry and other agricultural crops grown in the state including avocado, blueberries, citrus, peaches, peppers, persimmons, tomatoes, and many other valuable crops. Multiple farm organizations have called on USDA to reverse the decision to allow the citrus imports from China. At press time, USDA had not responded to those calls or announced any changes to its decision. GrowingProduce