No Appeal for Fruit Ban

Medfly infestation means those darling clementines are gone, but not forgotten

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're hankering for Spanish clementines this winter and live in the South or West, you'd better develop a liking for oranges instead.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials say Mediterranean fruit fly larvae were found in the popular citrus fruit in Louisiana, Maryland and North Carolina. The agency has told Spain that no more clementines can enter this country for an indefinite period of time.

"The original ban went into place on Nov. 30 because of confirmed Mediterranean fruit fly finds in food store inspections in North Carolina and Maryland," says Jim Rogers, a USDA spokesman in Riverdale, Md. "We traced those back to a ship that had offloaded cargo in Philadelphia. We then wrote Spain a letter telling them that we are suspending importation of clementines."

The Medfly, Ceratitis capitata, is one of the world's most destructive fruit pests. It originated in sub-Saharan Africa, though it hasn't yet gotten a foothold in the United States. It attacks more than 260 types of fruits, flowers, vegetables and nuts and turns them to inedible mush.

Officials originally thought they could lift the clementine ban on Dec. 5, but another Medfly larvae find put that on hold.

"Late in the day on Dec. 4, we confirmed another Med fruit fly find in a food store in Shreveport, La., which we traced back to a ship that had offloaded in Port Elizabeth, N.J.," Rogers says. "And so we decided to extend the ban indefinitely."

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has now banned the sale or distribution of Spanish clementines in the states where the fly could survive and multiply -- Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, Rogers says. Stores in those states must remove the Spanish fruit from their shelves, he adds.

"With the clementines that are here, stores and distributors can destroy them or ship them to states that are not under the ban," Rogers says. "So Mississippi could in theory ship them to Michigan, which is a state that has neither the climactic conditions or crops the flies like to eat."

Clementines, small mandarin-type oranges, are known for their sweet flavor and easy-to-peel skins and are a popular item during the holiday season. Grown in the semi-tropical climates of Spain and Morocco, the fruit is imported to the United States from November through March. The statistical office for the European Union reports that in 1998-1999 Spain exported 47,566 tons to the United States. In 1999-2000, the figure had almost doubled to 78,492 tons.

"Yes, we found live larvae in several locations," confirms Steve Lyle, the director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento. "It's neither common, nor uncommon, to find a product that is infested with an exotic pest like this. We've certainly dealt with it before."

Lyle says California has spent $300 million trying to eradicate various infestations of Medfly over the past 20 years.

"It's a significant threat to our fruit and vegetable industry. We just completed treating an infestation this fall in Los Angeles County," he says.

According to USDA estimates, the Medfly would cost the United States about $1.5 billion every year if it ever got established in this country.

What To Do

For more on the Mediterranean fruit fly, check out the USDA or Purdue University.

And here's everything you ever wanted to know about clementines.

SOURCES: Interviews with Jim Rogers, spokesman, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Riverdale, Md.; Steve Lyle, director of public affairs, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento; Dec. 5, 2001, USDA Press Release
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