(Feb. 3) U.S. industry and government leaders are moving to stay ahead of new pesticide regulations in Japan that could trip up U.S. produce shipments there.

Japan is toughening its regulations by stating that by 2006 it will create its own list of maximum pesticide residue limits on fresh produce imports, government and industry sources said in late January.

The law will be phased in during the next three years, after which time only Japan’s residue standards would be applied to fruit and vegetable imports. The U.S. has a similar system, industry sources said.

Publicized findings of produce with high residue levels in recent years have led to more pressure to increase regulation of pesticides.

DEFERS TO CODEX

For now, Japan defers to Codex Alimentarius Commission international residue standards if it does not have a maximum residue limit established for a particular chemical, industry sources said. If Codex does not specify a residue limit on a chemical, Japan usually defers to U.S. standards.

In recent years, Wally Ewart, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Ontario, Calif., said the U.S. has been registering lower-risk compounds for use on domestic fruits and vegetables before they have been registered in Europe and Japan. A significant number of chemical compounds used on a crop like oranges, for example, haven’t yet been registered for use in other countries yet.

What’s more, he said Codex international standards can take eight years to be established, even after the compound is approved in the U.S.

Perhaps half of the 20 to 30 chemicals used on U.S. oranges that could result in measurable levels of pesticides are not registered in Japan, Ewart said. With the new system, Japan is proposing to enforce only its standards by April 1, 2006.

JUSTIFIED BY DATA

That will mean chemical companies marketing those chemicals to U.S. growers will have to present data to the Japanese to establish maximum residue levels for those chemicals before the deadline.

Both Japan and the U.S. allow import residue tolerances for chemicals not registered for use in their own county, but the tolerances must be justified by data supplied by makers of the chemicals.

The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service reports that the implementation of the Japanese maximum residue limit list leaves open the possibility for a trade dispute because of a single omitted compound.

The Japanese government has asked for active participation in the process from the U.S. government and industry to ensure that this does not happen, according to a report from Kevin Latner, a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

USDA GRANT

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program — authorized in the farm bill — is helping establish a database of maximum residue levels in countries where U.S. growers export.

“We need to have a place exporters can go to find out quickly and efficiently what the standards are,” he said.

The Crop Life Organization has begun the database, but Ewart said the FAS would be a better long-term caretaker of the database, since specialty crop grants are subject to congressional appropriations.

“We’re looking at the FAS to maintain the database in the future,” Ewart said.

“From a practical point of view we have to create partnerships between the USDA and various interested groups to address this issue,” said Frank Tarrant, chief of the horticultural division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.