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California growers sue U.S. government over lifted ban of Argentine lemons

Staff Writer |
Suing the United States, a consortium of citrus growers claims the secretary of agriculture’s recent decision to remove the ban on lemon imports from Argentina was politically motivated, ignores science and puts the nation’s produce at risk.

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The growers say the ban was lifted “in a rush to reverse decades-old policy in the service of unrelated foreign objectives,” and that APHIS and the USDA violated a number of laws to do it.

The United States has banned importation of lemons from Argentina since 1947 to prevent the spread of blight and disease.

Many plant pests and diseases in Argentina would wreak havoc here, and the Argentine agency charged with monitoring the problem, the Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentari, has a long history of failing to report disease outbreaks and ensuring compliance with measures to prevent their spread, the growers claim, citing the USDA itself.

The 54-page complaint cites the emergence of citrus black spot, a fungal disease that is hammering the Florida citrus industry.

In lifting the ban, APHIS cited conclusions reached after a 2015 visit to Argentina, but APHIS has never disclosed any information about that trip, failed to issue a report on it, did not take public comment on it and has refused to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information about the trip, according to the complaint.

Argentina is the world’s biggest lemon producer. According to a May 18 article in the Buenos Aires Herald, with the ban lifted, Argentina would ship 16,500 to 22,000 tons of lemons a year to the United year.

Argentina has not set a limit on how many lemons it will export, nor did the USDA study how the lifting of the ban might affect the U.S. industry, according to the growers’ lawsuit.

They seek a declaration that lifting the ban would violate the law, is an abuse of discretion, and an injunction.

The plaintiffs, which include Santa Paula Creek Ranch, CPR Farms, Green Leaf Farms, Bravante Produce and Richard Bagdasarian, are represented by Christopher Casamassima with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr of Los Angeles.

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