Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Citrus worth R654 million possibly destroyed due to new regulations

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The European Union’s (EU) Standing Committee on Plant, Animal, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) published drastic new regulations requiring the cold treatment for oranges heading to the region as a means to address false codling moth (FCM) interceptions from Southern African (SA) orange exports. If enforced this month, these new regulations could result in millions of cartons of citrus currently headed to the EU being destroyed. 

Despite objections from a number of countries, including European markets that currently import SA oranges, these new regulations were published in the Official Journal of the European Union in June 2022, stating that these “shall apply from 14 July 2022”.  

These regulations make extensive changes to the current applicable phytosanitary requirements for citrus coming from SA. They require that imports of citrus fruit must undergo specified mandatory cold treatment processes and precooling steps for specific periods (up to 25 days of cold treatment) before importation – in other words, before consignments are shipped. 

Read more about Botswana’s new regulations with fruit and vegetable imports here.

An unnecessarily trade-restrictive measure

These new requirements differ significantly from SA’s existing rigorous FCM Risk Management System, which has been highly effective in protecting European production from the threat of pests or disease, including FCM, over several years, and is supported by the results of scientific studies published in international peer-reviewed scientific journals. 

The nature of the cold treatment prescribed in the new regulations is contrary to scientific evidence, making it an arbitrary, unjustified and unnecessarily trade-restrictive measure and accordingly contravenes international requirements for such phytosanitary trade regulations.  

Most critically, local citrus growers currently export 800 000 tonnes of high-quality citrus fruit to the EU annually, yet FCM interceptions have been consistently low over the past three years – with 19 (2019), 14 (2020), and 15 (2021) interceptions respectively. This is in stark contrast to FCM interceptions from other third importing countries, which have been much higher – with 53 129 and 58 interceptions over the same period. However, no measures have been proposed against these countries.

A significant portion of SA’s commercial orange production will also not be able to withstand the new prescribed cold treatment. Organic and “chem-free” oranges are particularly prone to chilling injury and will be most severely impacted, even though no FCM interceptions have been reported in the EU on these environmentally friendly and sustainable orange types. 

Read more about South Africa’s deciduous fruit industry here.

SA engages EU for reconsideration

SA is currently engaging with its counterparts in the EU to reconsider these regulations on the basis of the fact that they carry no technical weight and appear to be nothing more than a politically motivated move by Spanish producers to freeze out SA citrus from the European market. 

However, of immediate concern is the fact that there are currently numerous shipments of citrus fruit en route to the EU with phytosanitary certificates issued before 14 July 2022 based on SA’s existing systems approach. These shipments will reach the EU after 14 July, by which time the EU’s new phytosanitary requirements will apply.  

As a result, an estimated 3,2 million cartons of citrus valued at R605 million (€38,4 million) currently en route to the region could potentially be destroyed by authorities. 

Watch Plaas TV’s episode on stone fruit here.

This will not only result in large gaps in the supply chain and higher prices for European consumers, at a time when the region faces the real risk of food insecurity due to the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict but will also severely threaten the sustainability and profitability of the SA citrus industry. In particular, it will put 140 000 jobs that the local industry sustains, mostly in rural areas, at risk. The massively unjustified potential destruction of millions of cartons of fruit also comes at a time when the EU has prioritised minimising food waste in supply chains across the region. 

The fact that authorities are trying to enforce these new regulations a mere 23 days after publication, making it impossible for SA growers to comply, highlights how unjustified and discriminatory this legislation is – with European consumers and local rural workers ultimately paying the price.

The Citrus Growers Association, in conjunction with the SA government, will continue lobbying against this restrictive legislation, which effectively poses the equivalent of a trade block for SA states. It would be unconscionable if political agendas result in millions of cartons of top-quality citrus being destroyed. – Fresh Plaza

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