Florida Citrus Packers recently called for a fix to a so-called “patch” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allegedly creates unfair advantages for Mexico and other countries over domestic grapefruit producers. Citrus Industry previously reported that the agriculture commissioners for Florida and Texas wrote letters protesting the USDA action.
Florida Citrus Packers Executive Vice President Peter Chaires addresses the issue, along with other problems facing grapefruit shippers, in the following statement:
Florida grapefruit shippers have been decimated by citrus canker, hurricanes and HLB. Added to this year’s list of calamities is a transportation crisis impacting exports, with container shortages, drastically escalated costs and port delays.
As unfortunate as the 2021 freeze was to our Texas counterparts, it ironically presented an opportunity to move more Florida grapefruit in domestic channels until the transportation crisis could be resolved. The domestic grapefruit market was suddenly a savior. This also came at a time when grapefruit demand was on the rise. Nobody could have predicted a proactive action on the part of USDA to effectively suspend the application of juice content standards on imported grapefruit. Juice content is a key component of grapefruit quality.
At this very time, domestic producers have acceptable Brix and acid in their fruit, but are postponing harvesting and shipping until the fruit meets the juice content standards. Such standards ensure a quality piece of fruit and a positive eating experience that will support consumer confidence and encourage repeat purchases. Unfortunately, these standards are only being applied to domestic producers but not imports.
The impact of this has been an exponential increase in low-quality, low-cost grapefruit flooding across the Mexican border. Midwest markets were the first to be impacted, and fruit soon found its way into the entire domestic supply chain. Florida shippers fear a negative impact on consumer confidence, right when domestic supplies are coming available in volume. Loads continue to be tested at the Texas border, and reports indicate that more than 80% of the grapefruit coming in would not have passed the previously enforced juice content standards.
Florida Citrus Packers has two concerns in this regard:
(1) The manner in which this regulatory change was implemented. If there was concern with any aspect of the established standards or the appropriate application of 8e to imported grapefruit, the issue should have been brought to the attention of the Citrus Administrative Committee (CAC). (Editor’s note: Section 8e of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 requires imported products to meet the same or comparable grade, size, quality and maturity standards as domestic products covered by federal marketing orders.) The CAC is charged with the administration of Marketing Order 905, which establishes grade, size and maturity standards for domestic grapefruit. The same standards, until this past summer, were applied to imported grapefruit through the 8e provision. The CAC, USDA and the stakeholders they represent should have been afforded the opportunity for discussion and deliberation of these key issues. Such decisions affect the shippers’ livelihood and businesses. This process never took place. Florida shippers learned from their Texas counterparts that juice content standards were no longer being enforced, and had to backtrack to find out how and why this was happening. We find this unacceptable.
(2) It is simply incomprehensible that our own federal government would proactively make a regulatory change, disadvantaging domestic grapefruit grower/shippers. This comes at a time when a range of American fresh fruit and vegetable producers are seeking relief from unfair Mexican trade practices that systematically disadvantage our domestic producers and endanger our self-sufficient food supply. Florida Citrus Packers is of the understanding that Patch #065 was not requested by any domestic or foreign entity. It can be argued that the patch does not itself result in a regulatory change, but when the patch effectively suspends the application of a regulation, the result is the same. The industry is not interested in arguing semantics. The industry wants this fixed and fixed now.
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