The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is amending its citrus canker regulations to eliminate the pre-harvest grove inspection for all Florida citrus moving interstate.

Instead, the amended regulations will require samples of each lot of citrus at the packinghouse be inspected to ensure the fruit is disease-free. This rule was published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register.

"This regulatory change will enable Florida growers to maintain, and possibly increase, the amount of fresh citrus shipped to eligible states while providing the same level of protection against the spread of citrus canker," said Bruce Knight, under secretary for USDA's marketing and regulatory programs mission area. "To ensure Florida citrus does not ship to citrus-producing states and territories, APHIS is enhancing its enforcement efforts by conducting market surveillance and monitoring activities throughout Fiscal Year 2008."

APHIS based its decision on the findings of a pest risk analysis as well as a risk management analysis. The pest risk analysis concluded that the risk associated with the interstate movement from quarantined areas of citrus fruit that is free of citrus canker lesions is insignificant. And the risk management analysis concluded that a mandatory packinghouse inspection of commercially packed fruit provides an effective safeguard to prevent the spread of citrus canker from quarantined areas.

Additionally, APHIS encouraged the public to participate in the decision-making process by providing feedback through the submission of public comments. The public comment period on the proposed rule, issued on June 21, closed on Aug. 7.

This final rule replaces an interim rule, published Aug. 1, 2006, that required all Florida citrus fruit destined for non-citrus-producing states to originate in groves that were inspected and found free of citrus canker no more than 30 days prior to harvest.

Under the previous regulations, APHIS officials conducted packinghouse inspections as an additional safeguard to ensure that fruit shipments leaving Florida were canker-free.

Under the final rule, Florida citrus destined for non-citrus-producing states must be treated and inspected at an approved packinghouse, found free of visible citrus canker symptoms and properly packaged.

To further protect citrus-producing states from any potential risk of disease, APHIS will continue to prohibit Florida citrus from being shipped to citrus-producing states and territories.

Fruit shipped within Florida does not require sampling and inspection as described in the final rule.

Florida citrus exported to other international markets must meet all import requirements of the destination county.

For additional information about citrus canker, click on the citrus canker hot issues link at www.aphis.usda.gov.