By MITCH LIES
U.S. fresh blueberries destined for Japan were still being held for testing this week under protocols Japan initiated in reaction to pesticide residues found on three blueberry shipments from California.
But the industry has seen signs the increased scrutiny could be nearing an end.
According to Oregon State University integrated pest management specialist Joe DeFrancesco, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is considering lowering the testing requirements under a request from the U.S. blueberry industry.
The industry is contending that two incidents of blueberry shipments that exceeded the maximum residue levels for methoxyfenozide should be counted as one, because they originated from the same grower and same shipment.
The ministry is amenable to the request, DeFrancesco said.
DeFrancesco said he learned of the development from the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service's Japanese office. The office did not respond to an email seeking confirmation.
The third violation of maximum residue levels for pesticides on U.S. blueberries triggered a five-fold increase in the number of shipments required to be tested and cleared of pesticide residues before cleared for commerce, DeFrancesco said.
Under normal protocol, about 5 percent of any one shipment of fresh fruit entering Japan must be tested and cleared of pesticide residues before the ministry releases the fruit into commerce.
After two violations of Japan's residue standards, the ministry increases the testing requirement to 100 percent of a product for a minimum of 60 shipments. After a third violation, a country needs 300 clean samples to test clean before the ministry relaxes testing requirements.
As of July 2, the Japanese ministry had cleared 103 samples of U.S. blueberry shipments, DeFrancesco said.
DeFrancesco said he learned in an email from FAS's Jennifer Clever that the Japanese "sound amenable to considering the two methoxyfenozide violations as one."
The increased testing protocol has increased shipping costs and complicated logistics, according to Doug Perkins, director of export sales for Hursts' Berry Farm.
Shipments entering Japan can be delayed five days while shippers await tests results, said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
The three violations include the two methoxyfenozide violations and a previous one for malathion.
In all cases the pesticide residue levels found in Japan were under U.S. standards but exceeded Japanese standards.
Methoxyfenozide is the active ingredient in the insecticide Intrepid.