(Bob Ehn, Clovis, Calif., is a consultant and chairman of the California Specialty Crop Council technical committee. The council and Ehn have long been involved in the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) issues that are critical to California specialty crop exports. Ehn was asked several questions about the current and future MRL challenges. Below are his responses).
What is the estimated cost in lost sales to U.S. producers due to foreign MRL issues?
More important than, what sales have been lost due to no MRL tolerances and the risk of having illegal residue on exported fresh and processed fruits and vegetables? The California export market amounts to $12.4 billion annually.
What is the increased cost associated with managing MRL problems?
It is costly to manage for MRLs. But, the recent move to joint submissions to multiple countries at the same time has helped significantly in getting MRLs established, particularly in the Pacific Rim.
What is the progress of global harmonization of MRLs?
There has been significant progress. U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Lois Rossi has helped tremendously in this effort.
Do you see a future system that will “solve” this problem or will we be having similar discussions 20 years from now?
MRLs will be an ongoing issue for many years to come. The review process has been improving significantly, but MRLs will always be a critical to California agriculture, which is so highly dependent on exports.
What are successful growers doing to meet MRL rules with their foreign customers and what can other growers learn from their approach?
Many processors and exporters provide a list of pesticides accepted under MRL export tolerances to contract growers. These MRL lists are for fresh products like peaches, plums, nectarines and table grapes, as well as processed food products like tomato paste. Most growers and processors understand that the risk is too great not to follow MRL guidelines for individual countries. If you don’t, you could wind up with a containerload of product rotting on the dock 2,000 miles away.
What are the tolerance issues with grapes?
There are no MRLs on exported California wine, but there are extensive MRLs for table grapes and raisins.