January 15, 2010

4 Min Read

This is the second in a series of articles on the subject of MRLs in the export market. It is part of an educational program developed by Western Farm Press and sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection.

Globally, pesticide residue testing on food and feed crops continues to rise. Importing countries are steadily increasing the volume of commodities tested as well as the number of chemicals for which they test. Therefore, any export-dependent agricultural commodity, like almonds, is vulnerable to issues related to maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides.

Two-thirds of almonds grown in the U.S. go abroad, which represents the single-most valuable agricultural export. Fortunately, there are not a lot of residue problems associated with almonds.

According to Gabriele Ludwig, associate director, Environmental Affairs of the Almond Board of California, tree nuts are not as severely impacted by potential MRL violations as the fresh produce industry for two reasons.

“One, we have the luxury of time. If there is a problem, we can do retesting and ship it back or to another market so there is not a complete loss,” she said. Tree nuts are not as perishable as fresh produce.

“Secondly, tree nuts do tend to have low levels of residues because of the nature of the nut itself,” she said. The hull and shell protect the meat from residues.

“Tree nuts are not normally thought of as having a problem with residues, but because it is the most valuable export crop, it is important to encourage registrants to not forget tree nuts in product registrations,” she said. The Almond Board closely works with pesticide registrants and USDA to alleviate disharmonies in international registrations of chemical products. Also, the ABC is proactive in encouraging registrants to include tree nuts in the international registrations of pesticides.

Even though pesticide residues are not a problem in tree nuts, growers and pest control applicators must still be vigilant. Ludwig encourages PCAs to refer to pesticide data and review the nuances in use when making specific pest control recommendations. She reminds applicators to pay attention; talk to the nut handlers; look at data; talk to the product registrant; and consult available resources.

Yet, despite being armed with all available information, she said, “It’s still a gamble; they are still making an educated guess, and there is still some risk involved.”

Though a slight risk is posed by residue testing and rejection of product by an importing nation, California almond handlers do not monitor or restrict pesticide usage. According to Gene Beach, spokesman for the Almond Huller and Processor Association, if pesticide applications are made in compliance with the domestic registration label, the handler can’t reject the product.

Christine Long with Hill Top Ranch almond handlers and chair of the Almond Board of California said communication within the almond and tree nut industry is vital. Hill Top’s two fieldmen communicate with 200 growers on a weekly basis via email or by phone. Growers are kept up to date on almond market prices, industry issues and policy recommendations. Long noted that such regular and rapid communication would be a valuable tool should a problem develop with MRLs and import issues.

While almonds sit in storage awaiting shipment overseas, there is still the potential for the product to be exposed to pesticides and, therefore, the potential for pesticide residue buildup, according to Ed Hosoda, vice president of Cardinal Professional Products. There are hundreds of storage facilities in California. Pesticides often are applied around the stored product as needed, he said.

Handlers and shippers must avoid the potential for residue buildup. They need to be careful not to treat too many times. They could surpass MRL if multiple fumigations are made using products such as methyl bromide, Hosoda cautioned.

“Fogging insecticides have the potential for residue buildup,” he said. “Piperonyl butoxide is one product used on food commodities that has come up on the radar screen multiple times.”

If a residue of a product that is used post harvest is detected as exceeding the MRL, the problem lies with the processor making the post-harvest application, he said. Therefore, applicators at storage facilities are encouraged to check the Code of Federal Register and other resources for the listing of registered products, for determining the maximum residue levels permitted, and for determining the importing country’s requirements. All this information is accessible through the Internet, he said.

“Make sure an MRL is listed on the fumigant being used,” he added. “The receiving country must have an established MRL for the product or you risk testing and the loss of a shipment.”

Fumigant suppliers, such as Cardinal, frequently convey information through training classes and information on the company Web site, with links to Codex (the Codex Alimentarius Commission international standards for MRLs) and other sources, Hosoda said.

“The resource is there,” he concluded.

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