(Feb. 24) LONG BEACH, Calif. — Produce organizations from Texas and California plan to let state and federal authorities know they need to do a better job of opening to public scrutiny a plan to allow Mexican citrus into the country untreated.

In a January meeting between Mexican agriculture officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a two-fold plan was floated that would allow Mexican citrus to be shipped anywhere in the U.S. without treatment.

TEXAS PROTOCOL ZONE

It also would create a zone along the Mexican side of the border with Texas where as much as 800 acres of citrus would be under the Texas Protocol. That protocol has different zones with different trigger levels for pests. When those trigger levels are reached in any zone, fumigation becomes required.

In a Feb. 23 meeting at the 2003 United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association convention in Long Beach, representatives of the Texas Produce Association, Western Growers Association, United, the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, California Citrus Mutual and other organizations met to discuss the proposal.

While many in the meeting were skeptical of allowing citrus from the interior of Mexico into the U.S. without treatment, given the levels of pests commonly found there and what they considered lackadaisical pest management by Mexican officials, most thought the creation of a new Texas Protocol zone south of the Texas border might be beneficial.

LACK OF NOTICE

But nearly everyone involved was worried about the fact that as of late February, APHIS had not made a formal proposal in the Federal Register that would give opponents and proponents alike the chance to publicly outline their positions before a decision is made.

“Nobody has a problem with the objective (of the possible new zone in Mexico),” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual. “But getting there and bypassing your ability to participate and question the efficacy, that’s a problem.”

Matt McInerney, executive vice president of the Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers Association, agreed. “It sets a dangerous precedent.”

ANTICIPATING REACTION

John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission, said APHIS planned a Federal Register announcement for the part of the proposal dealing with the interior of Mexico. But it was his understanding that APHIS did not plan a public comment period for the part of the proposal that would make a strip of Mexican land along the Texas border Zone 6 of the Texas Protocol.

“They keep telling us it’s a done deal,” McClung said. “I think the state of Texas will take exception to the Feds implementing Zone 6 without discussion.”

That said, most of the attendees of the meeting at United said they thought the creation of Zone 6 would benefit Texas growers because it would force Mexican growers next door to Texas citrus groves to meet the same pest management standards. It also would force Mexican agriculture officials to acknowledge more pests than just the Mexican fruit fly.