Mexican tomato exporters claim produce is free of virus

Mexican agricultural officials claim it is "unjustified" to still detain tomatoes at the US border for longer inspections.

Víctor Villalobos Arámbula, Mexico's secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), said 43 truckloads of Mexican tomatoes have been detained at the US-Mexico border since Nov. 18 as part of stepped up inspections against the tomato brown rugose virus (ToBRFV). “The detention of trucks is "unjustified since we all buy the [tomato] seed from the same source, which is the United States," Arámbula said.

Since Mexican growers buy their tomato seeds from the US, Arámbula said US officials need to verify that the virus wasn't already in North American if detected in produce from Mexico. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with Customs and Border Protection agents, began increased inspections of imported tomatoes and peppers to protect against the introduction of ToBRFV in November.

Tomatoes from Mexco, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands are inspected at US ports of entry for ToBRFV. The virus does not affect humans or animals, but it is an immediate concern to agriculture and could cause "severe fruit loss in tomatoes and peppers," according to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Arámbula said Mexico exports around 90 truckloads of tomatoes to the US every day and said he was worried that the virus "issue" could negatively affect the image of Mexican products: "This can't be an issue that limits our tomato export to the US. We have strong reasons to prevent shipments from being stopped at the border in the United States."

Mexico is the No. 1 supplier of tomatoes imported by the US, accounting for 87% of the value of total US tomato imports at $2.06 billion in 2018, according to the USDA.


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