(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 8) Over the objections of California grower-shippers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has amended its foreign and domestic quarantine regulations on hass avocados.
“It’s a great disappointment to us,” said Guy Witney, director of industry relations for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, Calif.

The amendment, released July 1, removes trapping and other requirements for various species of fruit flies on hass avocados from Michoacan, the Mexican state approved for exports to the U.S. The change was warranted, according to APHIS, because research demonstrated the fruit has limited host status for the fruit flies.

“Decreasing the trappings in Mexico takes away some of the eyes in the orchards looking for pests,” Witney said. “It’s a further easing of the phytosanitary requirements for fruit entering the U.S., and it certainly makes our growers uncomfortable.”

The USDA also amended its domestic quarantine regulations to permit interstate movement of hass avocados that had been quarantined due to potential fly infestation. That does not particularly help California growers, Whitney said.

Importers of the Mexican fruit welcomed the amendments.

“It’s nice to see the U.S. government is creating a level playing field for everyone,” said Avi Crane, president of Prime Produce International LLC, Orange, Calif.

The changes reduce the cost to the growers and packinghouses in Mexico, but Mexican avocado groves must still be certified for the U.S. and other rigorous protocols remain in place, Crane said.

The Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán (APEAM), released a statement from Emiliano Escobedo, the group's marketing director, on July 7.

"The USDA’s decision to amend the rule was based on sound science and will save the growers in Mexico millions of dollars while protecting the environment by preventing the needless application of pesticides to control fruit flies that do not attack avocados,” Escobedo said in the release.

Witney said it’s not an issue about competition.

“There seems to be plenty of room, considering as much fruit as we’ve seen come in without seriously denting the supply and demand curve,” he said.

The concern is the increased potential for the arrival of invasive pests.

“With all the fruit that’s pouring into the U.S. and into California, the chance of their being a piece or two carrying Mexican fruit flies is relatively high, Whitney said. “It’s certainly a risk to all of California agriculture.”

For the first time in decades, Mexican avocados were allowed into California on Feb. 1, 2007.