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USDA relaxes fumigation protocols for Peruvian asparagus

by Tim Linden | August 12, 2011

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has relaxed its fumigation procedures for Peruvian asparagus imported into the United States, according to Frank Ramos, a customs broker and president of The Perishable Specialist, based in Miami, FL.

Frank Ramos, a customs broker and president of The Perishable Specialist.
“This is beautiful news,” said Mr. Ramos. “It lowers the cost [of fumigation] and lowers the suffering of the product.”

Mr. Ramos said that the new protocol came out late on Aug. 4 and went into effect on Aug. 5.

“The new protocol changes several things,” he said. “The dosage of methyl bromide has been lowered to four pounds. The treatment time has been increased by one-half hour, but the Section 18 that Peruvian asparagus has been operating under has been removed.”

Essentially, that will immediately reduce the total time for fumigation from eight hours to 6.5 hours. Mr. Ramos said that under the Section 18 imposition, it meant that every load pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture employees into an overtime mode, which increased the cost. In addition, the extra two hours in the fumigation chamber were not good for the product.

Prior to the imposition of Section 18, Peruvian asparagus was fumigated for two hours and then remained in the chamber for another four hours for aeration. Section 18, imposed late last year, required the same two hours of fumigation, but if the pulp temperature of the asparagus was below 50 degrees, which is typically the case, it needed to remain in the chamber for six hours, which was an additional two hours.

Mr. Ramos said that the new protocol treats all asparagus the same: 2.5 hours of fumigation followed by four hours of aeration.

In addition, he said the USDA announced late on Aug. 4 that it is working on a new permit process that will allow non-fumigated Peruvian asparagus to be trucked to Canada from Miami. Currently, there is a permit process for Peruvian asparagus to land in New York and be trucked through the United States into Canada without fumigation, but Miami-landed product was not granted that option.

“This is going to be very big,” said Mr. Ramos. “Canada is a growing point of consumption, and there is much more air-lift capacity coming to Miami than to New York. And it is much more expensive to air lift to New York. This is a very good deal for the importers.”

He said that the new permit process will require each importer to be certified, and each importer will have to name one representative who is responsible for making sure the procedure is followed to the exact letter of the law.

“I have been told that the USDA is still working out the permit process, but once they do, it will take about three weeks to certify each importer.”

If that is the case, certification is possible by the time heavy shipments begin in early September.