April 13, 1998
Illegal Products Pose Risk To Florida
TALLAHASSEE Smuggled fruits and vegetables from foreign countries are entering Florida and endangering the states $6.1 billion farm crop because of pests and diseases associated with them, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford announced today.
Some of the commodities, such as most citrus products from Asia, are banned outright from entering the United States. Others, including a large number of tropical fruits from Central and South America, are only allowed to enter the country if they have undergone special treatment, such as fumigation or hot water treatment.
During the past two weeks, officials in Crawfords office and their counterparts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have established the Florida Interdiction Smuggling Team (FIST) and conducted sweeps of speciality food stores in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.
They have confiscated dozens of items, including packages of Dried Mandarin Peel and Dried Pomelo Peel from Hong Kong, Dried Red Pepper from China and Kaffir Lime Leaves from Thailand.
In addition, inspectors have seized papayas from Costa Rica, avocados believed to be from Mexico, and star fruit from an as of yet undetermined country.
The creation of the anti-smuggling team and subsequent sweep were prompted by the discovery at a Miami market earlier this year of a bag of dried lime leaves infested with citrus canker. The product had come from Thailand.
"The concern with these types of products is that we have no quality control, and it only takes one bag not treated properly during packaging to pose a threat to Florida agriculture," said Crawford, noting that his Department currently is fighting outbreaks of both citrus canker and Mediterranean fruit fly in Miami.
Last summer, the Department successfully eradicated the largest Medfly infestation to hit Florida in decades. It began in Tampa and spread to four other counties.
The anti-smuggling team will continue to visit markets throughout the state, but it is concentrating on how, where and by whom the illegal products are entering the country and being distributed to stores in Florida.
Crawford said the discovery of such products on store shelves underscores the need for the establishment of an emergency eradication fund by the Florida Legislature this spring. Crawford has called for the creation of such a trust fund to be paid for by unclaimed gasoline tax refunds owed to farmers and matching funds from the state. It would amount to some $12 million a year.
During the last 10 years, Florida has spent an estimated $150 million to eradicate plant pests and diseases, such as Medfly and citrus canker. As neither of those two plagues are indigenous to Florida, the outbreaks have been caused by travelers or smugglers bringing infested fruits or vegetables into the state.
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