As the European Union (EU) prepares to limit residues of a post-harvest chemical that’s widely used in the U.S. apple industry, some growers and shippers are bracing for even further declines in export sales to that region.

The European Union is in the process of lowering acceptable maximum residue levels (MRLs) of Diphenylamine - commonly called DPA – to 0.1 part per million on March 1 – a far cry from the 10 ppm allowed under international standards. Allowable levels for China and Canada are slightly lower, at 5 ppm.

DPA is a plant regulator applied to apples and pears after harvest to manage skin disorders which are referred to as scald. After several months of storage, scald typically appears in the form of irregular brown areas on the skin of the fruit. The flesh below the affected area may become soft and discolored.

A lot of the MRL levels in the EU are very difficult to meet, noted Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) last week. And even if growers don’t use DPA, the risk of cross-contamination in areas where apples had been treated is too great for shippers to meet the newer EU residue level.

As a result, “We won’t be able to go into the EU as long as that material has been used,” Allen said. Only organic apples would not be affected by the change.

Last year, the United States Apple Export Council (USAEC) – which represents 11 apple-producing states - warned that the European Commission's decision to lower the MRL could end its trading relationship with European customers altogether.

However, some U.S. shippers are trying to protect their exports to Europe with new methods.

Ward Dobbins, who owns U.S. Apple Sales in New York, says there is no doubt that there will be an economic impact in the U.S. from taking DPA away as a treatment, but he started investing in alternative processing methods, including the use of lime, almost a year ago. Now his firm is one of three East Coast shippers that is DPA-free. Dobbins says apple sales to the United Kingdom have been a large part of his business, so the change “was probably more important to us than several other companies.”

“It seems like every couple of years they (the EU) come up with new restrictions,” Dobbins added, “but they are willing to pay premiums for the product.”

Dobbins expects sales of Empire apples to remain fairly constant as a result of the changes he implemented, but several other varieties produced on the West Coast, such as Red Delicious or Pink Lady, could see sharp declines in exports to the EU.

Little wonder then that the apple industry was pushing for new trade agreements on Capitol Hill last week, with renewed efforts to break down sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers.

“Our industry urges Congress to support updated TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) legislation so that U.S. apple growers can grow our markets and supply nutritious and delicious U.S. apples to new markets around the world,” Allen emphasized. “As we negotiate, we must be ever mindful that trade agreements must treat trading partners equally without imposing restrictions on one party and not the other.”

On a national level, 33 percent of the 2012-2013 U.S. fresh market apple crop was exported, continuing the country’s historic net surplus in apple trade, according to the U.S. Apple Association. During that same time period, the U.S. exported 46.7 million 42 lb. units, valued at $1.16 billion, while imports of 10.6 million units were valued at $198 million.


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