(April 28) Setting the stage for streamlined phytosanitary rule making for fruit and vegetable imports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said April 26 it will hold four meetings to explain its strategy.

The USDA said it is moving “to establish criteria within its regulations that would allow APHIS to approve or reject certain fruits and vegetables for importation into the U.S. and to acknowledge pest-free areas in foreign countries using a notice-based process,” according to an April 26 news release.

The USDA said a series of public meetings on the proposed amendments were scheduled in Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami the week of May 23 and in Washington, D.C., on June 20.

The agency said the proposed process for approving imports would apply only to fruits and vegetables that could be safely imported. Fresh produce commodities that warrant additional phytosanitary measures would require specific prior rule making.

Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said APHIS officials have told him the process is an attempt to remove unnecessary delays without compromising phytosanitary security or protection of domestic agriculture.

Wally Ewart, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Auburn, Calif., said APHIS officials have communicated to him the streamlining of rule making for fruit and vegetable imports would diminish protection for U.S. agriculture.

However, Ewart said the biggest issue for California citrus growers is the USDA’s pest risk assessment on Florida’s citrus canker.

Ewart noted the results of the Florida case can be applied by other citrus-producing countries with canker, such as Argentina, South Korea and Japan.

The USDA news release said APHIS will continue to seek comment on import requests by publishing notices in the Federal Register inviting comment on the findings of pest-risk analyses before authorizing any imports via follow-up notices.