The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in August ruled to allow fruit from Uruguay to be imported into the United States after the South American nation implemented tougher regulations to eliminate potential pests.
On Monday, the first shipment of fresh citrus from Uruguay to the United States was unloaded from a vessel at the Port of Philadelphia
"The first shipment of citrus marks nearly 19 years of hard work and negotiation between the United States and Uruguay. We have reached new levels of safety and look forward to expanding our offerings of affordable, high quality Uruguayan produce in the U.S. and abroad," Ricardo Baluga, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Uruguay, said in a statement issued by Holt Logistics, which operates the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal where the Valencia oranges were offloaded onto trucks and sent to local distribution centers.
Philadelphia is a major destination port for South American produce because of its proximity to major consumer markets, refrigerated warehouse space and cold winters that are inhospitable to tropical pests.
USDA regulations prohibit or restrict the importation of fruits and vegetables into the United States from certain parts of the world unless exporters follow U.S. treatment and storage standards to prevent the introduction and spread of plant pests that could damage domestic crops.
The new standards implemented by Uruguay growers and agriculture officials are designed to stop the South American and Mediterranean fruit flies, the honeydew moth and citrus fruit borer, as a well as a fungus and a pathogen, Alex Styer, a public relations official on retainer to Holt, said.
USDA is requiring fruit from Uruguay be cold treated for 15 days and shipped in refrigerated containers kept below 1.6 degrees Celsius for the entire transit, according to Holt. If sensors detect the temperature rises above that the threshold the shipment will not be accepted to enter the United States.
USDA officials will inspect shipments at the Packer Avenue Terminal and also test for product quality at local warehouses to ensure the fruit meets meet U.S. spoilage standards.
Deliveries of citrus fruit from Uruguay will be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate declaring that the consignment is free of all pests of concern.
The Uruguayan National Plant Protection Organization has also agreed to step up pest monitoring and control practices in the field, while growers are implementing grove sanitation and packinghouse procedures designed to eliminate the pests of concern.
APHIS made a similar adjustment to its rules this year to allow imports of blueberries and grapes from Peru and Uruguay into South Florida for the first time as part of an Oct. 1 pilot program. Perishable products from tropical regions previously had to enter U.S. commerce north of Baltimore, where the cold winters will kill and fruit flies that escape. Growers, importers, forwarders, ocean carriers and others collaborated with U.S. Customs and APHIS to develop protocols for preventing infestation. Until now, fruit was imported at ports such as Philadelphia and trucked down to Florida.
(For more details about the new direct importation of fruit to South Florida, read "Fruit fight
," in the September issue of American Shipper