New federal inspection rules go into place Friday on tomatoes and peppers, a month after Florida agricultural officials expressed concern that a virus had been found in tomatoes imported from Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that tomatoes and pepper fruit from Mexico, Israel and the Netherlands must be inspected for tomato brown rugose fruit virus, known as ToBRFV, upon arrival at U.S. ports.
The rule also requires tomato and pepper seeds and plants from countries where the virus is known to occur to be tested and certified free of the virus.
In early October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported inspectors found tomato brown rugose fruit virus in packaged Mexican tomatoes in Naples and Gainesville. The tomatoes were destroyed.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called the new requirements encouraging.
“Imported tomatoes and seeds carrying the ToBRFV virus are a serious threat to Florida agriculture,” Fried said in a statement. “That’s why I called on the USDA to help fight this threat, and I’m encouraged by their new requirements on testing and certification for products from where this virus is known to exist. This is critical to helping protect Florida’s growers and produce.”
According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the virus is more severe for young plants and can result in 30 percent to 70 percent yield loss. There are no known health risks to humans from the virus.
The state estimates Florida-grown tomatoes account for $262 million a year in economic impact.
The virus, which can be spread through contaminated tools, hands, and plant-to-plant contact, was first reported in tomatoes in Israel in 2014. Since then, it has been reported in China, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Greece, the United
Kingdom, Jordan, Turkey and the Netherlands.
The rule also applies to imports of tomatoes and pepper fruit from Canada, because the nation receives crops from Mexico and may re-export them to the United States. The USDA said the virus has been eradicated in Germany.