Starting Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will increase inspections on imported tomato and pepper fruit entering all U.S. ports of entry, including at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry in south San Diego County.
CBP officials said these inspections aim to prevent the introduction of Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus, which can cause severe fruit loss in tomatoes and peppers. The CBP said the virus is easily spread through contaminated tools, hands and plant-to-plant contact.
The inspections are part of a plan to protect the multi billion-dollar U.S. tomato and pepper production industry from being impacted by the virus.
“Diseases like this, as well as other invasive species could devastate our nation’s economy, and threaten the health and safety of our citizens,” said Kevin Harriger, CBP’s Agriculture Programs and Trade Liaison executive director, in a press release.
The inspections will ensure imported tomato and pepper fruit entering the country from Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands does not show any signs of disease upon arrival.
According to a CBP press release, the increase in inspections come on the heels of a Federal Order that was issued last week by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
That order imposes restrictions on imports of tomato and pepper seed lots and transplants from all countries and restrictions on tomato and pepper fruit consignments imported from Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands.
The Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus was first reported in tomatoes in Israel in 2014. Over the past five years, the virus has been reported in China, Mexico, Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Turkey, and the Netherlands.
"The virus was detected and eradicated from a California tomato greenhouse in 2018," the CBP added.
The inspections and restrictions will carry some impact for local travelers.
APHIS is also prohibiting the importation of all fresh tomato and fresh pepper fruits of any variety from all countries of origin in passenger baggage.
That means travelers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border can no longer bring tomatoes and peppers from Mexico into San Diego County.
Jackie Wasiluk, a CBP public affairs spokesperson in San Diego, told NBC 7 local CBP officers and agriculture specialists "will be working to ensure that travelers are complying with the change in rules" at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry.
She said agents will also be seizing any of the produce that travelers declare and didn't know was prohibited.