September 11, 2013

HIRONO HAILS USDA LIFTING BAN ON SHIPPING HAWAII AVOCADOS TO MAINLAND

Earlier This Year, Senator Hirono Wrote A Letter To Secretary Vilsack Arguing USDA Lift The Ban On Hawaii Avocados

Washington, D.C. - Senator Mazie K. Hirono announced today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will lift a ban on Hawaii Sharwil avocado shipments to the mainland. Earlier this year, Hirono wrote and sent a letter – signed by Hawaii’s congressional delegation – urging the USDA to lift its 1992 ban, arguing that numerous scientific studies have found that the avocados prove to be a very poor host for the fruit flies USDA is trying to prevent from coming to the mainland. Since sending the letter, Hirono has worked closely with avocado farmers, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the USDA to lobby for the ruling.

“This USDA ruling will directly benefit Hawaii farmers and our economy,” said Hirono. “The new rule -- advocated by Hawaii’s congressional delegation since 1992 -- will finally allow our local producers to sell avocados to the mainland, opening up a number of new markets for these delicious, Hawaii-grown products. Advancing local food has long been a cornerstone of my push to make our state and economy more sustainable, and I am very appreciative the USDA has made this critical ruling.”

Text of Hirono’s letter can be found below.

The 1992 discovery of invasive oriental fruit fly larvae in an avocado packing house in Hawaii led the USDA to institute a shipping ban on Hawaii’s Sharwil avocados unless shipments underwent extreme measures that destroyed the quality of the product. Since the ban went into effect, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Hawaii avocado growers and the Congressional delegation have sought to repeal the ban, setting up multiple safeguards to prevent the spread of the fruit flies. In response to the request of the late Senator Inouye, the USDA convened two science panels in 2004 and 2005 bringing together the best science and scientists to reexamine shipping protocols. These studies clearly demonstrated Hawaii Sharwil avocados were poor hosts for oriental fruit flies and therefore did not deserve the extreme shipping protocols enforced by the USDA.

Known for its unique, buttery taste, Sharwil avocados are produced on approximately 280 Hawaii farms, primarily on Hawaii Island. Prior to the shipping ban, Hawaii’s Sharwil avocados were expected to effectively compete with imported foreign avocados, due to the fruit’s quality and early growing season. It is expected Hawaii avocado farmers will begin shipping their product to the mainland later this fall.

You can read USDA’s ruling here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/09/12/2013-22205/interstate-movement-of-sharwil-avocados-from-hawaii.

Hirono’s April letter to USDA reads below:

 

April 3, 2013

            Re: Proposed Rule on Interstate Movement of Sharwil Avocados from Hawaii

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write in strong support of the proposed rule, published on February 7, 2013, amending quarantine regulations to allow the interstate movement of untreated Sharwil avocados from Hawaii into the continental United States (“Hawaii Sharwil Rule”).

We are familiar with the suspension of the 1989 rule that allowed such shipments due to the 1992 discovery of oriental fruit fly larvae in a cull avocado found in a packing house in Hawaii.  Ever since this suspension, the Hawaii Congressional delegation, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and the Hawaii avocado industry have worked very closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen the shipping protocols to minimize the risk of introduction of the oriental fruit fly to the continental United States.

In response to the request of the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the USDA convened two science panels in 2004 and 2005 bringing together the best science and scientists to reexamine the shipping protocols.  Consistent with previous scientific findings, Sharwil avocados were again found to be very poor hosts for oriental fruit flies.  The panels went on to identify procedures that are part of a systems approach. With this approach, the risks of accidental introduction of oriental fruit flies to the U.S. mainland are practically nonexistent.  This science-based assessment of risk is the basis for the proposed rule being considered.  We applaud the USDA in being so diligent in assessing and redefining shipping protocols for Sharwil avocados.

As a delegation, we do not take these types of rule deliberations lightly. As a state with more than 25 percent of the organisms on the Threatened and Endangered Species list, we know the importance of good science as the basis of shipping protocols. It is somewhat ironic that the pest at the center of the proposed rule, the oriental fruit fly, is an alien invasive species inadvertently introduced to Hawaii in the early 1900s.

Our strong support for the proposed rule is based on three main factors: the sturdy foundation of good science that is the basis for the systems approach; a protocol that is sufficiently practical for Hawaii growers and shippers to be fully compliant; and assurances that the shipment of Sharwil avocados pose no discernible disruption of domestic avocado markets.

The proposed rule requires that untreated avocados only be shipped during the cold months (November-March) and only to 32 northern tier states and the District of Columbia. None of the shipments would go to states that produce avocados. Moreover, it is important to note that the shipment period means that Hawaii Sharwils would be competing with mostly imported foreign avocados. Given the superior quality of Hawaii Sharwils, this competition would be good for the American consumer, for American farmers, and for the American economy.

In addition, finalization of the proposed rule in question ultimately provides domestic growers with avocado shipping protocols similar to those afforded foreign growers and shippers.  This equity, while a long time in realization, is only fair.

Thank you for your efforts in deliberately and fairly addressing an issue so important to Hawaii’s agriculture and Hawaii’s economy.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Mazie K. Hirono                                                                           Brian Schatz

United States Senator                                                             United States Senator

Colleen Hanabusa                                                                   Tulsi Gabbard

Member of Congress                                                               Member of Congress