Arizona Pulls Produce Inspectors Out of Mexico

November 12, 2010

Citing concerns of violence in Mexico, the state of Arizona has ordered its fruit and vegetable inspectors not to cross the border to check the goods coming into the state. The produce industry says the mandate leaves them unprepared to deal with the resulting backup.

KJZZ's Michel Marizco reports.

MICHEL MARIZCO:  For 60 years, inspectors from the Arizona Department of Agriculture crossed into the state of Sonora to inspect the fruits and vegetables coming into the U.S. It was the only border state to do so.

Earlier this month, the state changed that and the Nogales produce industry is protesting that decision.

Laura Oxely, the ADA spokeswoman says the state had no choice.

LAURA OXELY: "Given the increasing violence in the area south of the border more recently we felt it wasn't safe to continue our practice of sending inspectors to do the grading of the produce."

MARIZCO: Long disputed by rival cartels, Nogales, Sonora, has had 213 murders so far this year. In all of 2009, there were 139. However, very few of the victims seem not to be involved in the trafficking business. The state's concern seems very general. No state inspectors have been harmed in Mexico.

OXELY: It's more the escalating violence in general and that innocent people are caught in the crossfire. The violence moving closer to the areas where we do the inspections and then the lack of concern by the criminals of who's in the way.

MARIZCO: As a result of the state's decision, the shipping industry says it was left unprepared to move all its inspections to the Arizona side of the line.

Lance Jungmeyer is the president of the Fresh Produce Association in Nogales, Arizona.

LANCE JUNGMEYER: "Last year, there were close to 32,000 inspections total on both the U.S. and the Mexican side in the Nogales area. About 12,000 of those occurred on the U.S. side. Almost 20,000 on the Mexican side. so you're looking at almost a 200 percent increase in the amount of inspections that have to happen on the U.S. side."

MARIZCO: He says the state had discussed the possibility of keeping inspectors in Arizona last September and that the new decision caught the industry by surprise. He says the new limits could drive shipping business away from Arizona and that ultimately, the cost of moving the inspections from where they are will be passed down to the consumer.

The group asked for the switch to be postponed and was supposed to receive an answer on Friday but by Friday afternoon, the issue was still not resolved.

In Tucson, I'm Michel Marizco.