USDA keeps ban on clementines because of poor Spanish medfly controls

Friday, January 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Agriculture Department has refused to lift a ban on the import of Spanish clementines, contending the citrus crop is not being monitored adequately for the Mediterranean fruit fly.

USDA imposed the ban late last year after it said live medfly larvae were found in clementines in Maryland and North Carolina. Department scientists inspected Spanish citrus operations last month and failed to determine how the larvae could have gotten into the United States.

``We want to review the whole situation overall and determine if a new (monitoring) system needs to be put into place to safeguard the introduction of medfly,'' USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said Friday.

In a report, the department said Spain's industry-run program for monitoring and trapping medflies lacked both consistency and direct government oversight.

Clementines are shipped aboard refrigerated ships, and the cold treatment is supposed to kill any larvae in the fruit. Spanish officials, who say the ban was unjustified, could appeal it to the World Trade Organization. Last month, thousands of Spanish growers demonstrated against the ban in Valencia and called for a boycott of U.S. crops.

David Holzworth, a spokesman for the Spanish industry group InterCitrus, said U.S. officials never have proved that they found live, viable larvae in the clementines. The larvae may have been in the dying stages as a result of the refrigeration, he said.

``Even if they had a confirmed live finding by a competent expert, a single such finding is not sufficient to support a ban on clementines,'' he said.

Spain's exports to the United States of the seedless, easy-to-peel fruit have been doubling yearly and now account for 6 percent of its overseas market.

The ban means clementines probably will be unavailable in U.S. stores before next winter.

While not a human health hazard, the medfly is considered one of the world's most destructive agricultural pests. It threatens more than 250 kinds of fruits, nuts and vegetables.