November 19, 2019 / Modified nov 19, 2019 11:35 a.m.

USDA implementing restrictions to prevent tomato virus introduction to US

The disease does not pose any risk to people or animals, an industry leader said.

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Starting Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin additional inspections of tomatoes and peppers crossing the border from Mexico.

“They’re going to be doing testing of seeds and seedlings and visual inspections of fruit," said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

It's part of new restrictions on tomato and pepper imports by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to prevent the spread of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) to the United States from affected countries.

In a federal order Friday, APHIS said the virus was first reported in tomatoes in 2014 in Israel and has since been reported in nine other countries including China, Mexico, and the Netherlands, adding: "Given the global nature of seed production and the international movement of seeds, the distribution may be greater than reported."

Among the restrictions APHIS is putting on tomato and pepper imports are the increased inspections at U.S. ports of entry on tomato and pepper fruit entering from Mexico, Israel and the Netherlands, as well as Canada, which has not shown signs of the disease, but re-exports some fruit from Mexico to the United States.

Testing at the border could cause some delays. But Jungmeyer said Mexican farmers have put controls in place that should ensure a continued supply of healthy fruit.

"I think there will be plenty of tomatoes for the market,” he said.

He added that while the virus spreads to plants through direct contact with contaminated tools, hands or other plants, the disease does not pose any risk to people or animals.

“Consumers should feel 100% safe in eating tomatoes and peppers no matter where they’re from," he said.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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