Citing continuing Asian citrus greening quarantines in Florida and outbreaks of the disease in Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina, USDA will step up U.S.-Mexico border inspections over the holiday season to diminish the threat of infected plants crossing Mexico ports of entry in an effort to keep California and Texas free of the same deadly disease that has cost the Florida citrus industry an estimated $300 million annually since it was first detected there in 2005.

“USDA is working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop the infiltration of all plant material across the border that might spread citrus greening disease to U.S. soil,” reports USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins. “The approaching holiday season presents a challenge to inspectors because of the elevated traffic across the border and stepping up inspection procedures and having a plan in place will help to insure the problem doesn’t cross over to sensitive areas like the Texas Rio Grande Valley.”

Hawkins says while citrus greening is a major problem for commercial growers in Mexico, the disease is largely limited to southern Mexico and concentrated in the Yucatan Peninsula. But it’s not infected fruit imports that have USDA concerned. Hawkins says Mexico is doing a good job fighting the disease and carefully monitors all commercial fruit production to help control the spread of the problem.

Mexican fruit is screened

“All Mexican fruit imports are screened in a cooperative effort between USDA and Mexico’s agriculture counterpart before they reach the border and are subject to further inspection on this side of the border. The real danger in the spread of citrus greening comes from infected plant parts like leaves and twigs attached to non-commercial imports of fruit, like those brought in by visiting Mexican residents,” Hawkins says. “The holiday season sees a spike in visitors from Mexico crossing at land ports of entry and this is the time of year that U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors step up their efforts to monitor potential spread of infected plants, including ornamental plants like orange jasmine.” 

Citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), is considered the most destructive disease of citrus worldwide. It is endemic in large parts of Asia and Africa, and has recently invaded the Americas. The disease is caused by a bacterium which is transmitted by insects called psyllids. There is no cure for greening, and the lengthy latent period after infection makes eradication almost impossible. The disease reduces fruit production, destroys the appearance, taste and economic value of fruit and eventually kills citrus trees.