NOGALES, AZ — The Arizona Department of Agriculture, which for many years
has been subcontracted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do
inspections on produce crossing from Mexico into the United States through
Nogales, has announced that its inspectors no longer will go into Mexico to
do the inspections.
USDA inspections are mandatory on some commodities, such as tomatoes,
and optional on others. While many of the inspections have been done in
Arizona in the past, a majority has taken place in Mexico, before the produce
crosses the border. That will now no longer be the case, and during the peak
of the season, that is "going to have a large impact" on the industry, said
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas,
“For years and years, going back to the '40s,” the Arizona Department of
Agriculture has handled the USDA inspections, “and for years they have been
going to Mexico to do them,” Mr. Jungmeyer told The Produce News Nov. 8.
Then, “just last week, we got a notification from the Arizona Department of
Agriculture saying that they will no longer send their inspectors to Mexico.”
The reason cited by the state of Arizona for the decision is a concern for the
security and safety of the inspectors in the light of the escalating drug
violence in Mexico, and particularly along drug-smuggling corridors, which
has, according to various sources, resulted in the deaths of between 27,000
and 30,000 people over the past four years.
“They are worried about the safety of their inspectors, and it is no unfounded
concern,” said Mr. Jungmeyer. However, “we do feel it is safe over there. There
have not been any incidences involving inspectors.” The shippers and
distributors in Nogales “go across the line” as do people involved in “all kinds
of businesses,” he said. “So I think our shippers feel safe.” But “the state
made the decision, and we have to find a way to work with them.”
Being able to do agricultural inspections on the Mexican side of the border
has had “a number of advantages,” he said. “Number one is, your labor costs
for loading and unloading the truck are much cheaper over there. Number
two is, there is more space over there,” referring to available warehouse space
in which to do the inspections. Depending on the product, the warehouse
space used for the inspection may need to be refrigerated.
Yet another advantage in doing inspections south of the border is that if for
some reason the product “doesn't meet grade, the importer doesn’t need to
bear the expense of bringing it across the border,” he said.
While many Nogales companies do have their inspections done stateside, a
majority has opted to have inspections in Mexico. Last year, the Arizona
Department of Agriculture performed more than 31,000 agricultural
inspections on produce crossing the border. Of those, about 11,600 were
done on the Arizona side. “That means almost 20,000 [lots] were inspected
on the Mexican side,” mainly at facilities located near the Mexican Customs
compound that are operated by Mexican government entities.
When a truckload of produce is selected for agricultural inspection, it must be
completely unloaded, with two feet of space left between the pallets so that
inspectors “can go around and look at it and ascertain the quality and put
stamps on the boxes as need be, and that takes up a lot of warehouse space,”
Now that the produce must all come across the border before it is inspected,
“our concern is, especially during the peak months,” which are January
through April for tomatoes, “there is just not going to be enough warehouse
space capacity on this side to really allow the number of inspections that there
have been in years past. So everyone here right now is scrambling trying to
figure out how we are going to accommodate these inspections on this side,”
Mr. Jungmeyer said.
“We are frankly not very happy that they gave us so little notice. If we had
known six months ago that they were going to quit doing inspections on the
Mexican side, I think there would have been time to either build a warehouse
over here that could accommodate the inspections or each shipper could have
added to their warehouses,” he said. Instead, the announcement was made
just as “the season is getting started,” he said.
“Basically, it is a tough situation,” Mr. Jungmeyer added. He and other
members of the association have been meeting with state officials “to try to
see what we can do to improve the situation.”
However, Allison Moore, communications director for the association, told
The Produce News Nov. 16 that there had been no new developments in the
situation in the past week.