“That pretty much takes the gas out of our tank.”
That’s what Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, told Good Fruit Grower when asked about the impact of the European Commission’s decision to lower permitted residue levels of diphenylamine (DPA) on imported apples.
Some packers in New York State had built a marketing empire selling Empire apples into the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“It’s a very specific, critical market to us,” Allen said. “They take a lot of medium to small apples—138s, 125s, 113s. It’s a very good niche market.” New York growers had been selling them 600,000 to 700,000 boxes per year. New York exports about 10 percent of its fresh market crop each year, and this market for Empire apples made up half of the exported crop.
The European Commission ruled in late April to reduce the permitted level of DPA residues from 5 parts per million to 0.1 ppm, a 50-fold reduction. That level is so low, it would require dedicated storage rooms and bins never exposed to any level of DPA, Allen said. The risk of cross contamination at 0.1 is just too high, he said.
Permitted residue levels of DPA in the United States and many other countries is 10 ppm; the Codex standard is 10 ppm. Canada, Europe, and China have been at 5 ppm.
Allen said he expects New York will abandon the European markets, pull their marketing representatives out, and concentrate on developing new markets in Brazil and India.
The decision to lower the maximum residue level (MRL) will become final in July unless there is a last-minute change of mind at the commission’s meeting then. “We will attend that meeting,” Allen said.
Expectations are the reduction—which is essentially a ban on use of DPA—will take effect in January 2014, six months after the final decision.
In the Pacific Northwest, the reduction will have less effect—because packers there had already been backing out of the European markets. The key reason was Europe’s decision two years ago to ban the wax ingredient morpholine.
“We used to do 1.3 to 1.4 million cartons to European,” said Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Washington. “We backed off and were building back up. This year through April we shipped 480,000 boxes to Europe.”
Shippers don’t dip apples in DPA solution for no reason, Willett said. It is used to reduce the incidence of storage scald in apples in controlled atmosphere storage. When SmartFresh (1-MCP) came to the market, it also reduced storage scald—but created new problems of carbon dioxide injury. DPA reduced that injury, so now many stored apples are treated with both DPA and SmartFresh.
Organic apples, which are not treated with either chemical, will be unaffected by the reduction in permitted levels. But organic apples go out of condition and can’t be stored for sale beyond the start of the new calendar year. Apples that aren’t treated with DPA must be picked later and sold earlier. Storage issues are more serious when fall picking conditions are warm.
“Growers in Europe will be affected, too,” Willett said. “Maybe growers in northern Europe, where it is cooler, will be less affected because there is less risk of scald.”
Willett said most packers knew the Europeans were considering reducing DPA residue levels, but the size of the reduction—effectively a ban—surprised them. “They didn’t consider tweaking the levels,” he said. If they had reduced the level to where cross contamination was acceptable, the growers might have been more willing to attempt to comply.
“More surprising was the fact there was no specific finding of risk,” Willett said. The European agency that evaluates safety of chemicals cited “data gaps,” but no specific safety issues. The product is used in every market in the world, and has been for many years.
It is the DPA residue that protects the apples in storage, so lowering the permitted residue level effectively makes the product useless.