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Importers prepare for mandatory tomato inspections

With the mandatory inspections of Mexican tomatoes set to start in a few months, importers are figuring out how such a system will work.

Last week in south Texas, the USDA met with importers and others about the plan.

Dante Galeazzi, president/CEO of the Texas International Produce Association BB #:162361, Mission, TX, said it was an opportunity for the industry to hear directly from the government and ask questions about the system which will begin April 1.

Last year, as part of the negotiation around the tomato suspension agreement, Mexican growers signed off on an agreement which requires USDA inspection of all round and roma tomatoes within 24 hours of an arrival at a facility that normally has a USDA inspector.

Galeazzi said his members are understandably concerned.

“As can be expected with adding a step to the import process, the biggest concern is the time factor,” he said. “Will it cause delays in shipment? Will it create bottlenecks at facilities waiting for inspections? Will it prevent the smooth flow of product into and out of warehouses?”

Lance Jungmeyer, president/CEO of the Fresh Produce Association of The Americas, BB #:144354 Nogales, AZ, said USDA has planning meetings scheduled for January 28 in Nogales and January 30 in San Diego.

“Everyone is gearing up for it now,” he said of the inspections. “This means ensuring you have adequate warehouse space for staging the load, sufficient warehouse personnel, and lighting, which USDA requires.”

He said FPAA members have been meeting with USDA, Arizona Department of Agriculture and others to make sure they are up for the challenge.

“It is not just tomatoes that are impacted,” he said. “Looking at USDA import figures, 15% of Mexican imported produce requires an 8e inspection as of today, across the Southwest border. As of April 1, adding tomatoes, that amount goes to 29%. It is going to be a huge logistical challenge, and importers of non-tomato items like citrus, grapes, onions and more potentially will see their service times negatively impacted after April 1. We are working with USDA to prevent any slowdowns across the board.

Jungmeyer said he’s confident Nogales importers will work through the logistics, and they will import high quality produce that U.S. consumers have shown they demand.

Galeazzi said it’s unclear what the costs will be for the inspections.

“The USDA inspection has to be paid for,” he said. “There’s time and coordination and warehouse personnel that will need to take part – communicating arrivals, processing paperwork, staging loads for inspections, etc.”

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services