More than a year after comments closed on a proposed rule for imports of Ecuadorian dragon fruit (pitahaya), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) has granted approval for the tropical crop to enter the continental U.S. market.
In an announcement yesterday, APHIS said the rule would become effective as of July 20, 2017.
“APHIS scientists have determined that fresh pitahaya fruit from Ecuador can be safely imported to the United States, while continuing to provide protection against the introduction of plant pests into the United States, if the fruit is produced under a systems approach,” the organization said.
“The systems approach deemed necessary by APHIS scientists includes requirements for fruit fly trapping, pre-harvest inspections, and indicates that only fruit from approved production sites may enter the United States.
“In addition, packinghouses in Ecuador must put in place procedures to stop the movement of quarantine pests.”
After the proposed rule was announced in April last year it received praise from some importers and consumers, however significant concerns were raised from the Florida state government.
In his comments, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services plant industry division (FDACS-DPI) director Trevor Smith raised concerns about the possible introduction of the South American fruit fly (Anastrepha fraterculus) in Ecuadorian pitahaya shipments.
“The PRA (pest risk analysis) rated the fruit fly Anastrepha fraterculus as High for likelihood of introduction. An introduction of A. fraterculus would result in major eradication efforts severely impacting Florida’s $8.25 billion dollar agricultural industry,” he said.
“Additionally, fruit infested with internal A. fraterculus larvae are highly likely to escape detection during culling.
“At this time, FDACS-DPI recommends shipments of pitahaya from Ecuador not be allowed into Florida.”
He said the division woule welcome the opportunity to participate in site visits of production areas and to receive other information to better understand and evaluate procedures utilized by Ecuador.
Miami, Florida-based Pandora Farms president Jourdan Gray was optimistic about the opportunities presented by the Ecuadorian deal, as currently options are mostly limited to importing fresh, irradiated pitahaya from Thailand or Vietnam for three quarters of the year.
“By allowing this product into the US there will be a nice economic opportunity for American businesses and consumers to get something much healthier,” Gray said as comments on the proposed rule.
“In addition, most of the pitahaya is a yellow type which is a totally different market from the Red one normally seen in the US.
“US based growers will still have no issues selling their product because many stores prefer buying from the US and there is not enough fruit even from those growers to fill the whole market. Hence the offshore imports from Nicaragua over the last few years. The quality is not good but the market demands it.
Gray was working on the ground closely in Ecuador in the year leading up the proposed rule announcement in April last year.
“The systems approach which has been in place for two years works. In addition, they are packing at HACCP facilities and already having to go through phytosanitary inspections for exportation to Canada and Europe,” Gray said.