WEST PALM BEACH — Agriculture officials are ready to allow Florida citrus to be shipped for fresh fruit use anywhere, effectively reopening markets blocked for the past three years after canker spread throughout the state's citrus industry.
Florida citrus growers have not been permitted to ship fruit to California and other citrus-producing states and territories since 2006. Now, the Agriculture Department has reversed its stance in a proposed rule, which is now open to a 60-day comment period, and the department could revise it after that.
Florida is the only state known to have citrus canker, a bacterial disease that can cause lesions on fruit. An end to federal inspections could save $9 million, the department said.
"The science now supports the fact that fruit that has canker lesions that is commercially packed and treated and goes through a commercial packinghouse doesn't pose a risk to move citrus canker," said Paul Hornby, the department's state plant health director in Gainesville.
Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, Calif., said the 4,000-member group will have its technical experts evaluate the proposed rule. California's $1.8 billion worth of citrus is sold almost entirely to the fresh fruit market.