Federal Order Targets New Virus on Tomato

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A new viral disease on tomato has been intercepted in a few spots in the U.S. Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) was first identified in a southern California greenhouse in September 2018 in grafted tomato plants and has also been found in specific production facilities in Mexico, and in Ontario, Canada. In October 2019, ToBRFV-infected tomato fruit was found in Naples and Gainesville, FL. Eradication efforts are underway in all these instances. The U.S., Mexico, and Canada are working together to minimize spread.

On Friday, November 15, USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service issued a new federal order requiring that all tomato and pepper seeds and transplants imported from countries known where the virus exists to be officially tested and certified disease-free. Several countries were singled out. For example, tomato fruit imported from Canada, Israel, Mexico, and the Netherlands must be inspected at the point of origin to ensure it is disease-free. Additionally, inspections of tomato and pepper fruit originating from Canada, Israel, Mexico, and the Netherlands will increase at U.S. ports of entry.

ToBRFV renders tomato fruit unsalable but is not considered to be a food safety issue. Symptoms stunted growth, yellow spots, and wrinkled patches. Tomato fruit develop lesions within 12-18 days of infection and are often deformed and mature irregularly. Tomato and pepper are the two primary hosts; other Solanaceous crops are potential hosts as well.

The virus is spread by physical contact, such as by workers, tools, and propagation. Seed transmission may be possible, and one study has implicated bumblebees as a vector during pollination. Spread of ToBRFV from infected, imported tomato fruit (such as in a grocery store) is highly unlikely to contribute to spread in a production field, which makes management a bit easier. The causal agent of ToBRFV is stable outside of plant tissue and can survive for months to years on crop soil, debris, tools, and even seed trays. Sanitation is key for control of this disease, especially in production.

The U.S. is ranked second worldwide in tomato production, according to USDA, with over $2 billion dollars annually at farm gate. Researchers from Israel first described ToBRFV in 2014. Since then it has been identified in Turkey, the EU, China, Jordan, and now North America. Mexico has installed a regulatory seed testing program for tomato and pepper seeds imported into the country. USDA-APHIS is evaluating the potential impact of ToBRFV and proposed the above regulations to ensure the safety of U.S. tomato production.

Florida claims the spot as the leading U.S. producer of tomatoes, with an industry valued at around $262 million annually. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requested APHIS to conduct a traceback on the recent ToBRFV interception in the state, to help identify the source.

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