Calling it a critical industry need, the Texas International Produce Association is trying to get a private testing lab to set up shop in the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas group working to attract border testing labThe Mission-based organization is surveying the needs of its members on microbiology and chemistry lab use.

The survey asks if its members would patronize a prominent food testing lab in the valley and how much they estimate they spend on testing.

John McClung, president and chief executive officer, said three well-known labs are considering opening facilities in the valley.

He said no timetable has been set but said the most likely location for a lab would be near the Pharr-Reynosa bridge in McAllen, Texas, the primary port of entry of Mexican produce crossing the border.

McClung said 100,000 of the yearly 145,000 truckloads of produce cross that bridge.

He said the Food and Drug Administration’s testing conducted in Arkansas and other Texas private labs don’t offer timely results.

“The agency will tell you it isn’t the distance as it only takes a day or two, but we know from experience that it takes longer than that,” McClung said. “It depends on the time of day, the day of the week, how big the workload is, whether it goes to Arkansas or Maryland and those kinds of variables.

“We know we need a lab at our immediate beck and call for both the governmental purposes and for importers. There is a tremendous surge of Mexican produce subject to inspection. With the Food Safety Modernization Act kicking in, it will require more and more testing which the FDA doesn’t have the personnel or lab capacity to handle.”

McClung said importers require fast and accurate science, which requires a lab.

He said the association wouldn’t help fund the lab but is working through its recently created Border Issues Management Program to help attract such a facility.

The association created the program to search for ways to streamline and expedite the movement of safe product crossing the border and deal with any issues interfering with the efficient flow of imports, he said.