U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced that it will implement a standard automated inspection protocol for all Canadian-grown fruits and vegetables effective February 1, 2009. This new protocol is expected to increase the number of inspections, and could result in additional delays in clearing such shipments. The protocol results from an interim rule issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in August 2006 that became effective in March 2007. The interim rule removed the previously existing inspection exemption for Canadian-grown fruits and vegetables imported from Canada.  

CBP’s new protocol (the details of which were not announced) will subject imported fruits and vegetables from Canada to a standard automated set of criteria. An entry that meets the criteria will be flagged and inspected, which may cause delays in the entry process. CBP announced that the removal of the inspection exemption for commercial shipments from Canada was necessary to prevent the introduction of plant pests and diseases into the United States, either by conventional pathways or as a result of bioterrorism. According to CBP’s Agriculture Quarantine Inspection inspectors, there have been numerous interceptions of prohibited fruits, vegetables, and other products originating in regions other than Canada as a result of inspections along the U.S.- Canadian border of agricultural products.  

The head of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski, noted that CBP has steadily increased the inspection rate for Canadian-grown fruits and vegetables since March 2007 when the inspection exemption was removed. The less structured nature of the inspection protocol will be replaced with an automated inspection protocol that may result in an increase in the hold and inspection rate for Canadian-grown fruits and vegetables.  

Importers of fruits and vegetables from Canada should closely monitor their shipments to determine whether delays are occurring because of such increased inspections. In addition, U.S. fruit and vegetable processors and packers, e.g., juice processors that rely on produce from Canada, should maintain close contact with their importers and suppliers to ensure on-time deliveries and to know as soon as possible when delays might occur.