(Aug. 22) OXNARD, Calif. — Unwise. Unfair. And scientifically unsound.

That’s how representatives of the California and Arizona produce industries characterized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed guidelines that would let Spanish shippers resume exporting clementines to the U.S.

A unified and coordinated coalition of agricultural associations, growers and state, local and federal officials turned up at an Aug. 20 public hearing to urge the USDA to retool its proposed guidelines and to keep Spanish clementines out of the U.S. until it had done so.

Imports of Spanish clementines have been banned since December after live Mediterranean fruit fly larvae were discovered in several shipments of the fruit upon arrival in multiple U.S. states.

“A loaded gun is pointed at our head, and USDA has its finger on the trigger,” Richard Matoian, president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League, told representatives of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the hearing.

The Oxnard hearing, at which Matoian and about 20 other speakers testified, was the first of two that the USDA had planned. The second was Aug. 22 in Florida.

More than 50 opponents of the proposed rule turned up at the Oxnard hearing. Many of them wore buttons with slogans demanding better pest controls and sounder science in dealing with Medflies and Spanish clementines.

Speakers told the USDA representatives that the proposed rule to let Spanish shippers resume exports to the U.S. lacks oversight capabilities, penalties for noncompliance and, above all, hard scientific data to prove that proposed new cooling requirements would actually kill any Medflies present in the Spanish fruit.

Opponents also criticized the proposed rules for failing to define how much risk is acceptable and what the appropriate levels of protection for U.S. agriculture are and for not taking into account grower losses from domestic and export markets in its economic impact analysis.

Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers, pointed out that the Medfly is one of the most destructive pests. Potential financial losses to the industry from an outbreak in the U.S. could reach into the millions or billions of dollars, he said.

“Because of the potential impact to the diverse growing regions and commodities susceptible to Medfly infestation, in the estimation of WGA, this issue must be cautiously approached, first and foremost as a pest exclusion issue and not simply as a proposed rule for Spanish clementines,” McInerney said. “In our opinion, the rule must protect the integrity of the APHIS process, not only for this rule, but for future issues with additional trading partners around the world.

“It is important to keep in perspective that Spanish clementine exports to the United States amount to only 6% of the total production of Spain, but any miscalculation in the proposed rule will place 100% of the U.S. industry at risk,” he added.