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Claude Knighten (301) 734-5271
Jerry Redding (202) 720-4623

USDA ANNOUNCES AVAILABILITY OF CITRUS CANKER SCIENTIFIC EVALUATION

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2006–The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today published for public comment the findings of its citrus canker evaluation, which concludes that asymptomatic fruit is an unlikely pathway for the further spread of the disease. Fruit that shows no signs of citrus canker is referred to as asymptomatic fruit.

The scientific evaluation affirms an underlying principle of the recently released draft Citrus Health Response Plan, that asymptomatic fruit does not pose a threat to other citrus producing areas because it does not further spread the disease. This finding is specific to commercially produced citrus fruit that has been treated with disinfectant dips and subjected to other mitigations. Even if infected fruit were to enter a citrus canker-free area with susceptible hosts, the evaluation found that the likelihood of establishment of the disease through this pathway is remote. The evaluation will now undergo a peer review to confirm these findings.

According to the evaluation, even if viable disease-producing organisms were present, it is highly unlikely that the necessary environmental and physiological conditions for disease development would be present at the precise time infected citrus was placed in close proximity to a citrus tree. In addition, empirical data further reinforces the conclusion that the likelihood of spreading citrus canker via movement of asymptomatic fruit is extremely low.

Last month, APHIS announced the availability of its draft Citrus Health Response Plan, which marks a new approach for sustaining Florida’s citrus industry that would enable growers to produce asymptomatic fruit in the presence of citrus canker. The draft plan would establish an area wide compliance program and identify minimum standards for implementing appropriate survey, diagnostics and mitigation measures to reduce the proliferation and spread of citrus canker.

In addition to sustaining Florida’s citrus industry, the goal of the plan is to safeguard other citrus producing states against the spread of citrus canker. This scientific evaluation could serve as the basis for interstate and international trade in citrus fruit from areas with citrus canker, following a formal rulemaking process. The draft Citrus Health Response Plan is available at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/pdmp/citrushealth/.

The 2004 and 2005 hurricanes spread citrus canker so extensively that it was determined on Jan. 10, 2006, that eradication was no longer a scientifically feasible option. At that time, the established program was modified to stop the practice of destroying trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree for the purpose of eradication. Tree removal is no longer mandatory, whether or not a tree is infected.

Notice of this evaluation is scheduled for publication in the April 6 Federal Register.

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before June 5. Send an original and three copies of postal mail or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. APHIS- 2006-0045 Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. If you wish to review the evaluation or submit a comment using the Internet, go to the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov and, in the “Search for Open Regulation” box, select “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click on “Submit.” In the Docket ID column, select APHIS-2006-0045 to submit or view public comments and to view supporting and related materials available electronically.

Comments are posted on the Regulations.gov Web site and may also be reviewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817.

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