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SUMMARY: We are amending the regulations concerning the importation of fruits and vegetables to allow the importation of fresh blueberries from Morocco into the continental United States. As a condition of entry, the blueberries must be produced under a systems approach employing a combination of mitigation measures for two quarantine pests, Ceratitis capitata and Monilinia fructigena, and must be inspected prior to exportation from Morocco and found free of these pests. The blueberries may be imported in commercial consignments only and must be treated with one of two approved postharvest treatments to mitigate C. capitata. The blueberries will have to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate with an additional declaration stating that the conditions for importation have been met. This action will allow the importation of blueberries from Morocco while continuing to protect against the introduction of plant pests into the United States.
DATES: Effective Date: August 29, 2014.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Dorothy Wayson, Senior Regulatory Policy Specialist, PPQ, APHIS, 4700 River Road Unit 39, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231; (301) 851-2036.
The regulations in "Subpart-Fruits and Vegetables" (7 CFR 319.56-1 through 319.56-68, referred to below as the regulations) prohibit or restrict the importation of fruits and vegetables into the United States from certain parts of the world to prevent the introduction and dissemination of plant pests that are new to or not widely distributed within the United States.
On December 31, 2013, we published in the Federal Register (78 FR 79634-79636, Docket No. APHIS-2013-0016) a proposal /1/ to amend the regulations to allow the importation of fresh blueberries from Morocco into the continental United States. We prepared a pest risk assessment (PRA), titled "Importation of Fresh Fruit of Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum Linnaeus) and its hybrid varieties Southern Highbush Blueberry [ V. corymbosum x angustifolium (V. x atlanticum) and V. corymbosum x virgatum ] into the Continental United States from Morocco" (March 2012). The PRA evaluated the risks associated with the importation of blueberries into the continental United States from Morocco. Based on the information contained in the PRA, we have determined that measures beyond standard port-of-entry inspection are required to mitigate the risks posed by these quarantine pests. To recommend specific measures to mitigate those risks, we prepared a risk management document (RMD).
FOOTNOTE 1 To view the proposed rule, PRA, RMD, and the comments we received, go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0016. END FOOTNOTE
Based on the RMD, we proposed to require the blueberries to be produced under a systems approach employing a combination of mitigation measures for two quarantine pests, Ceratitis capitata and Monilinia fructigena, and inspected prior to exportation from Morocco and found free of those pests. We proposed to require the blueberries to be imported in commercial consignments only and to be treated with one of two approved postharvest treatments to mitigate the risk of C. capitata. We also proposed to require the blueberries to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate with an additional declaration stating that the conditions for importation have been met.
We solicited comments concerning the proposed rule for 60 days ending March 3, 2014. We received six comments by that date, all from private citizens. The comments are discussed below.
General Comments on Proposed Rule
One commenter stated that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) should prohibit the importation of blueberries from other countries into the United States. Another commenter agreed, stating that the distance between Morocco and the United States is great, and therefore, blueberries would need to be picked prematurely, which would negatively affect the quality of the fruit.
Such prohibitions would be beyond the scope of APHIS' statutory authority under the Plant Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 7701 et seq., referred to below as the PPA). Under the PPA, APHIS will prohibit the importation of a fruit or vegetable into the United States only if we determine that the prohibition is necessary in order to prevent the introduction or dissemination of a plant pest or noxious weed within the United States.
Additionally, as a signatory to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the United States has agreed that any prohibitions it places on the importation of fruits and vegetables will be based on scientific evidence, and will not be maintained without sufficient scientific evidence. The blanket prohibitions requested by the commenters would not be in keeping with this agreement.
A few commenters expressed concern that the importation of blueberries from Morocco poses a high risk of introducing quarantine pests into the United States.
For the reasons explained in the proposed rule, the RMD, and this final rule, we are confident that the systems approach and other requirements of this final rule will adequately mitigate the risks associated with the importation of blueberries from Morocco.
Comment Regarding Inspections for M. fructigena
We proposed to include in the regulations that blueberries would have to be inspected in the fields for signs of M. fructigena infestation 30 days prior to harvest. This inspection will have to be conducted by the national plant protection organization (NPPO) of Morocco. If M. fructigena is detected during the inspection, APHIS would prohibit the importation of blueberries from Morocco into the continental United States from that place of production for the remainder of the growing season. We also proposed that the exportation of blueberries from the rejected place of production may resume in the next growing season if APHIS and the NPPO of Morocco agree that appropriate remedial actions have been taken. If M. fructigena is not detected during the field inspections, the NPPO of Morocco must certify that the consignment of blueberries has been inspected again prior to exportation and found free of the fungus.
One commenter stated that inspecting a crop 30 days prior to harvest may not ensure that the crop is free from M. fructigena.
We note that in addition to field inspections, which have been shown to be effective, the blueberries are inspected for signs of M. fructigena prior to exportation from Morocco and are re-inspected at the port of entry by U.S. officials. These mitigation options have been used successfully to mitigate the risk of M. fructigena on fruit imported from other countries.
Comment Regarding Treatments for C. capitata
To mitigate the risks associated with C. capitata on blueberries from Morocco, we proposed that each consignment of blueberries be treated in accordance with 7 CFR part 305 for C. capitata. Within part 305, SEC 305.2 provides that approved treatment schedules are set out in the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) Treatment Manual. As the RMD discusses, there are two approved treatments to reduce the risk of C. capitata: Fumigation with methyl bromide (treatment schedule T101-i-1-1) and cold treatment (treatment schedule T107-a).
One commenter stated that the use of methyl bromide to treat the blueberries for C. capitata would not eliminate the pest from the fruit and would contaminate the fruit, making it unsafe for human consumption.
Fumigation with methyl bromide is an established and proven treatment for blueberries and other fruits and vegetables that is routinely employed to successfully mitigate the risk of C. capitata and other pests. Methyl bromide is approved for use on articles for human consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency sets tolerances, or maximum residue limits, for pesticides used on products for human consumption, and the Food and Drug Administration tests imported fruit and vegetables for compliance with those residue limits.
Comment Regarding the Economic Impacts on Small Businesses
A commenter recommended changes to the proposal to address the economic impacts on small business entities relative to the importation of blueberries from Morocco. Specifically, he suggested that we restrict the volume of blueberries imported from Morocco each year and guarantee the sales price of blueberries from Morocco to be no lower than blueberries produced in the United States.
APHIS does not have the authority to set market price on commodities in the United States, nor can we place quotas or other limitations on the volume of fruits and vegetables imported into the United States.
In the preamble to the proposed rule, we included the requirement that "30 days prior to harvest, blueberries be inspected in the field by the NPPO of Morocco for signs of M. fructigena infestation." However, we did not include in the proposed regulations that the NPPO of Morocco would be required to conduct this inspection. For this reason, we are amending paragraph (c) of SEC 319.56-69 to include this information.
In addition, we stated in proposed paragraph (c) that "the exportation of blueberries from the rejected place of production may resume in the next growing season if an investigation is conducted and APHIS and the NPPO of Morocco agree that appropriate remedial actions have been taken." In reviewing this statement, we realized that, as worded, it is not clear what entity is responsible for conducting the investigation. While such an investigation must be conducted by the NPPO of Morocco, or by APHIS, or in combination, the point we wished to emphasize was that no exports of blueberries can resume from such places of production until APHIS and the NPPO of Morocco agree that appropriate remedial actions have been taken. For this reason, we are amending this statement in paragraph (c) to reflect our intended emphasis.
--This is a summary of a Federal Register article originally published on the page number listed below--
CFR Part: "7 CFR Part 319"
RIN Number: "RIN 0579-AD81"
Citation: "79 FR 44117"
Document Number: "Docket No. APHIS-2013-0016"
Federal Register Page Number: "44117"
"Rules and Regulations"