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Sept. 8 — U.S. consumers may get quicker access to imports of certain fruits and vegetables under a proposed rule from the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) scheduled for Sept. 9 Federal Register publication.
The inspection service is proposing to approve all new fruits and vegetables for U.S. import through a notice-based process instead of a lengthy rulemaking process (Docket No. APHIS-2010-0082; RIN 0579-AD71). The approach would respond to evolving pest situations in the U.S. and in exporting countries in a more flexible manner, the inspection service said.
APHIS already has established a notice-based process for allowing the importation or movement from Hawaii and the U.S. territories of fruits and vegetables, subject to one or more specified phytosanitary measures. The current rulemaking process can take from 18 months to more than three years for fruits and vegetables that do not qualify for the notice-based process. Use of the notice-based process has cut the average time to six to 12 months, APHIS said.
“Consumers and businesses would benefit from the more timely access to fruits and vegetables for which entry or movement would currently require rulemaking. This benefit would be reduced to the extent that certain businesses would face increased competition for the subject fruits and vegetables sooner due to their more timely approval,” APHIS said.
The notice-based process eliminates the need for regulatory amendments because approval of fruit and vegetable imports from various countries is accomplished by publication of Federal Register notices.
APHIS, in a 2007 final rule on imports and a 2009 final rule on interstate movement from Hawaii and the territories, adopted a streamlined notice-based authorization process for those fruits and vegetables that—based on the findings of a pest risk analysis—can be safely imported subject to one or more designated phytosanitary measures.
Those measures included port-of-entry inspection, approved post-harvest treatment, a phytosanitary certificate verifying that the products originated from a pest-free area, a phytosanitary certificate verifying that the commodity is free from a specified pest or pests or that the risk associated with the commodity can be mitigated through commercial practices and importation in commercial consignments only. Fruit and vegetable imports that required additional phytosanitary measures beyond the designated phytosanitary requirements listed by APHIS continued to undergo the full rulemaking process.
APHIS's Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program developed the Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) database to list approved commodities and the requirements for their importation. FAVIR, which is accessible via the APHIS Internet site, includes not only those commodities approved using the notice-based process, but also commodities approved through rulemaking. Approved commodities are also listed in PPQ's Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Import Manual
In the current proposal, the inspection service wants to expand the notice-based system to approval of all fruits and vegetables for import and interstate movement from Hawaii and U.S. territories. “New information about pests that affect imports is constantly becoming available, and changes must therefore be made frequently to existing import protocols. Listing requirements in the regulations can impede timely and effective decisionmaking, and in some cases, has costs to the regulated public,” APHIS said.
The proposal would not alter which fruits and vegetables are currently eligible for importation or how the risks associated with those commodities are mitigated. Using a notice-based approach allows for prompt communication with stakeholders, as well as reduced administrative burdens, APHIS said.
Fruits or vegetables approved prior to the institution of the proposed process would continue to be allowed to be imported under the same requirements under which they were approved.
APHIS also proposed removing the region- or commodity-specific phytosanitary requirements found in the regulations. Those requirements would continue to be listed in FAVIR.
Comments on the proposal are due Nov. 10.
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