U.S. authorities amend irradiation treatment rules for southern states
The United States' phytosanitary regulator has decided to expand geographic options for irradiation treatment plants in the country's southern states, while also changing rules for imports of some Indian and Thai fruits.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has published the final ruling amendment on the Federal Register, overhauling a system where only Gulfport (Mississippi), Wilmington (North Carolina) and Atlanta (Georgia) were allowed to host the southern states' irradiation facilities for imports.
The southern states also include Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"This action will allow irradiation facilities to be located anywhere in these States, subject to approval, rather than only in the currently approved locations," APHIS said.
The amendment also allows for the irradiated treatment of Indian mangoes and Thai tropical fruits prior to or after arrival in the U.S.
APHIS sought comments from the general public for a 60-day period ending on Nov. 28, 2011. In that period it received seven comments, although one 'comment' was made up of 3,529 almost identical letters from an advocacy group, a state department of agriculture and private citizens.
"Some commenters stated that irradiation is an inappropriate way to deal with the risk of plant pests in imported foods.
"One commenter opposed the rule as no irradiation facilities have been built in the currently approved locations in the Southern States."
Several commenters also expressed concerns about importing commodities into the United States prior to irradiation treatment, also highlighting that states such as Florida are high-risk areas for fruit flies and other invasive pests.
"Another commenter stated that allowing irradiation facilities in Southern States would make it easier for pests to infest key agricultural States and expressed concern about the cost of containing and eradicating exotic pests.
"One commentator questioned why pest mitigation is not occuring prior to export and did not understand why the United States would perform this task for exporters."
APHIS' response was that fruits could be treated in the U.S. instead of the exporting country for many reasons, such as a lack of resources, technical expertise and infrastructure to treat the products.
"The regulations require safeguards that have successfully prevented the introduction or dissemination of plant pests into or within the United States via the importation or interstate movement of irradiated articles since 1996, when irradiation was first used as a phytosanitary treatment.
"Based on our experience, we are confident that exporting countries have the ability to comply with all APHIS requirements and commodities from exporting countries can be safely treated in the United States.
"APHIS recognizes that the Southern States have conditions favorable for the establishment of exotic fruit flies, and that is why we proposed additional safeguards for irradiation facilities in these States that go beyond the current requirements that apply to all irradiation facilities."
The requirements are that untreated articles may not be removed from packaging before treatment under any circumstances; refrigerated or air-conditioned conveyances must be used to transport regulated articles to the treatment facilty; and that facilities must have contingency plans for safely disposing of regulated articles if they are unable to treat a shipment.
According to APHIS there is currently only one irradiation treatment facility in the U.S. that is USDA-APHIS-PPQ approved for imports, run by Sadex Corporation in Iowa for treating Pakistani mangoes.