Effective Friday, Nov. 22, the importation of fresh tomatoes and pepper fruit is prohibited through passenger bridges and U.S. ports of entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will increase inspections on imported tomatoes, pepper fruit, seed lots and transplanted lots entering all U.S. ports of entry.

The inspections and prohibition of the fruit comes following a federal order by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Service last week. The federal order imposes restrictions on the import of those fruits and is meant to prevent the introduction of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The prohibition of the fruit is also meant to protect U.S. tomato and pepper production, worth more than $2.3 billion annually, according to a press release.

“The order prohibits the importation of tomato and pepper fruits from all countries of origin in passenger baggage,” according to the release.

The tomato fruit virus only blemishes the fruit; it does not affect humans, the agency said.

Per the federal order, Animal and Plant Health Services will require all tomatoes and peppers imported from countries where the virus exists to be officially tested and certified free of the disease. Tomatoes and peppers imported from Mexico, Israel and the Netherlands will be inspected at the point of origin to ensure it is free of disease symptoms, according to the press release.

Per the federal order, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will “increase inspections at U.S. ports of entry to ensure imported tomato and pepper fruit entering from Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands does not show any signs of disease upon arrival,” according to the press release.

Additional requirements for commercial consignment from Mexico, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands will be imposed.

“Canada imports tomato and pepper fruit from Mexico that may be re-exported to this country, therefore, Canadian exporters will now be required to inspect tomato and pepper fruit to ensure it is free of disease symptoms prior to export to the United States,” according to the press release.

The tomato fruit virus can cause severe fruit loss in tomatoes and peppers. “It is easily spread through the use of contaminated tools, hands, and plant-to-plant contact,” according to the press release.

The virus was first reported in Italy in 2014. Since then, it has been reported in China, Mexico, Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany (eradicated).

“The virus was detected and eradicated from a California tomato greenhouse in 2018,” according to the press release.

Del Rioans can find more information on bringing agricultural products to the United States at www.cbp.gov.

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