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Florida Seeks Tougher Limits on California in Medfly War : Infestation: U.S. asked to sharply restrict fruit and vegetable exports. California says it will fight proposal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California agricultural officials battling the Mediterranean fruit fly said Saturday they will strongly resist a Florida proposal that federal authorities impose tougher export restrictions on California fruits and vegetables.

In Florida, where a Medfly infestation is also threatening that state’s $1.4-billion citrus industry, officials petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday calling for broader controls on California exports.

But California authorities, who have already quarantined 1,300 square miles of Southern California, say Florida’s proposal is without scientific validity and comes at a time when eradication efforts here are showing signs of success.

“There have been more Medfly finds in Florida since January than here . . . so we find it hard to understand why Florida is petitioning to restrict us,” said Isi Siddiqui, assistant director of the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

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“We could make the same case that there should be a statewide quarantine for Florida,” Siddiqui said. However, he added, California officials are not planning to do so.

In its petition, Florida called for all California fruits, vegetables and some other crops to be inspected and certified as free of Medfly larvae. They also propose more Medfly traps and more aggressive spraying of the pesticide malathion around nurseries and farms involved in interstate exports.

Florida’s proposal would expand upon an existing program that requires fumigation or cold treatment to kill the pest for fruits and vegetables within a quarantine area. Medfly larvae feed on citrus and other fruit, making them unfit for sale and eventually causing rot.

If Florida is successful, Siddiqui said, the cost of such an inspection program would run in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars"--an expense that would be passed on to consumers.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner described the proposed limit on California crops as “reasonable.”

“I believe Florida . . . is not acting precipitously in initiating this petition action,” Conner said. “We have waited and hoped that the Medfly situation in California would improve. Our personnel and resources are stretched about as far as they can be. We simply do not want to chance any further introduction of Medfly.”

California officials, Siddiqui said, are “puzzled” by the timing of Florida’s petition.

“If this petition had been filed in March or April (when several Medflies were discovered in the Southern California area), that could have been viewed as an expression of concern. This is unusual,” he said.

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California’s latest and biggest Medfly eradication campaign began with the detection of a single bug last July. Since Jan. 26, Siddiqui said, 19 Medflies have been found in Southern California, while 23 have been discovered in a 15-square-mile area of Dade County, Fla.

In Miami, aerial malathion spraying began in late April after the discovery of a Medfly--the first assault on Medflies in Dade County in three years.

Both states are planning to augment controversial malathion sprayings with the introduction of millions of sterile Medflies in hopes that fertile flies will be overwhelmed numerically, disrupting the propagation of the pest.

Florida and California officials will meet Tuesday in Washington to debate the proposal before the National Plant Board Advisory Council, a group of agriculture officials that influences U.S. Agriculture Department policy.

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California officials say their eradication efforts appear to be working. They note that the latest discovery occurred May 1.

Henry Voss, director of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, said the state has a “comprehensive and biologically sound Medfly detection, eradication and quarantine program.”


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