As harvest of summer fruits nears, the challenge of exporting to Taiwan and meeting its stepped-up pesticide-residue–testing program spreads from apples and pears to cherries, peaches, and other soft fruits.

The first load of Pacific Northwest apples was rejected by Taiwan governmental officials in early February. By the end of March, ten more apple containers were detained following detection of pesticide residues of endosulfan (Thiodan) or fenpyroximate (Fujimite).

While the detected residues were well below U.S. maximum residue levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Codex, Taiwan does not have a maximum residue level set for Fujimite, and only a provisional maximum residue level for endosulfan.

"There is a problem in Taiwan because they are very slow in setting MRLs for chemicals used on imported products," Dr. Mike Willett, Northwest Horticultural Council’s vice president for scientific affairs, said to the Good Fruit Grower. "When you couple that with the fact that they are now testing all imported products and taking action, it has developed into the ubiquitous ‘perfect storm.’ This created the problem we faced in apples and are now facing in cherries and other soft fruits as we export in the next couple of months."

The threat of having shipments rejected when they arrive in Taiwan puts people in real commercial jeopardy, added Mark Powers of the Horticultural Council. About half of the apple loads that were rejected were shipped back to the United States or to another foreign market, some being shipped on consignment.

Several loads that initially failed due to endosulfan residues were later retested and released for sale in Taiwan because of a provisional MRL agreement between the United States and Taiwan. Under a 1999 MRL establishment agreement with Taiwan, their Department of Health was required to notify the United States should MRLs be significantly reduced below the U.S. tolerance, Willett explained. No notification was given regarding changes to endosulfan. In the case of Fujimite, there has never been an MRL in Taiwan.

Broad impact

The stepped-up Taiwanese enforcement on imported product is not just affecting Northwest tree fruit. According to news articles in Taiwan newspapers, during February a total of 36 food items supplied from 16 countries or regions were found to contain pesticide residues, bleach agents, formaldehyde, aflatoxin, and other additives. Potatoes and fresh strawberries from the United States have also had detection encounters.

"We’re told that following an internal audit of the Taiwan government, the organization responsible for testing imported foods was instructed to increase its scope of testing. When they did that, they hadn’t completed review of MRLs, and it triggered these problems," Willett said. He pointed out that other countries started testing and enforcing pesticide residue limits without such problems because they had first established a comprehensive list of MRLs.

"Thus far, Taiwan has told our U.S. government representatives that they believe they have the expertise and capacity to set their own MRLs and don’t believe that they need to defer to limits established by Codex or their trading partners," he added.

Representatives of the Minor Crop Farm Alliance sent a U.S. delegation to Taiwan in April to learn more about the country’s pesticide regulatory process and reinforce the importance of the issue with U.S. trade and agriculture representatives. Willett represented Northwest tree fruit growers and was joined by advocates for California table grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, almonds, strawberries, and the U.S. potato industry.

"This issue is not just an inconvenience," Willett said. "It’s a serious barrier to trade. Not only have we carried that message to Taiwan, but we reinforced that the problem needs to be fixed before the bulk of the summer fruits are exported."

Growers need to work more closely than ever with their pest control consultants in communicating their market needs, Willett advised. "There are a lot more changes this year than in the past when it comes to pesticide decisions. There are far more challenges this year."

Review MRL

He encourages growers, pest control advisors, and shipper-exporters to review the Taiwan MRL list that is available for all on the Hort Council’s Web site. The table reflects the Hort Council’s best current understanding of the MRL situation in Taiwan, but is subject to change.

"It’s not a pleasant thing to view the MRL list," Willett said, adding that the materials registered on cherries in Taiwan is a "pretty short list."

Moreover, registrants need to be looking closely at their customers’ needs, particularly what those needs are for export commodities, he stressed. "And they need to move as aggressively as they can to establish MRLs in the export markets."

Willett praised the work of endosulfan registrant Mahkteshim Agan of North America in working to resolve the Taiwan problem. "They really stepped up to the plate, sending letters to the Taiwan government, calling, and even sent a staff person who is a native Taiwanese to the April meeting. They were very helpful."