California citrus growers find new USDA rule a bitter lemon
California citrus industry officials are blasting a Bush administration proposal that would ease out-of-state shipping restrictions on Florida orange growers, possibly allowing the spread of potentially industry ruinous fruit disease known as canker.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture rule, if approved, would take effect Oct. 1 and ease inspections of Florida citrus before shipment to non-citrus producing states.
“In effect what USDA proposes is since Florida can’t do what’s necessary and what’s historically been mandated on other commodities within the United States and around the world, then we should accept what they can do,” Joel Nelsen, head of the California Citrus Mutual, told the Fresno Bee last week.
Nelson's group, based in Exeter, is joined in opposition to the proposed rule by officials from the California Citrus Quality Council in Sacramento, the Sunkist Growers in Sherman Oaks, the U.S. Citrus Science Council in Ventura.
The USDA is prepared to move forward with the rule after last week's conclusion of a six-week public comment period.
Florida citrus growers have responded by questioning the disease-spreading efficacy of the California growers' concerns.
“Currently there is not evidence that has ever implicated citrus fruit as a pathway for the spread of citrus canker,” said Michael Sparks, executive vice president of the Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, Fla.
Although Florida citrus headed to California and Arizona would still face current inspection standards, California growers are concerned that entry of diseased fruit into other neighboring states such as Nevada may eventually allow the disease to cross the border.
The California growers are calling for a pilot program to test the USDA rule change before full implementation.
“We all sympathize with the plight our cousins in Florida are facing,” Richard Pidduck of the U.S. Citrus Science Council told the Bee, “but to that end let’s determine whether this untested effort can work by conducting a pilot program.”