USDA Looking to Streamline Importing of Plants in Growing Media

Growing media blend APHIS

Photo by Brian Jackson, NCSU

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is accepting comments on a draft environmental assessment (EA) for importing plants in approved growing media into the U.S. The EA considers the potential environmental effects of having a standardized set of pest risk mitigations for routine market requests to import plants in approved growing media. This approach would eliminate the need for APHIS to prepare a unique EA for each request, making the process of reviewing import requests more efficient.

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For the importation of plants in growing media, APHIS typically requires a systems approach, which includes safeguarding measures across the production continuum that growers, packers, and shippers can put in place to minimize the risk of introducing plant pests into the U.S. These systems approaches are very similar for most import requests.

“We’ve begun to review the proposal, and we’re also seeking the perspectives of volunteer leaders in the industry,” says Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Research. “The stated goal is process streamlining of the environmental analysis required under federal law, by developing a generic set of pest mitigations for which a single analysis is done. This doesn’t eliminate the requirement for a full pest risk analysis, considering which quarantine pests may move on a particular plant from a particular country, and whether or not those risks can be mitigated. It would, however, speed up the rate at which reviews and decisions can be done.”

Regelbrugge also notes that, while far from perfect, Quarantine 37 has functioned for a century as the primary defense against damaging foreign plant pests.

“That’s hugely important today, with travel and trade exposing us to more and more threats, often without good tools to manage them,” Regelbrugge says. “As a general matter, plants in growing media pose greater risk of harboring pests, and so we are reviewing the proposal with these realities foremost in mind.”

According to an APHIS statement, “we have determined that a single programmatic EA would reduce the need for repetitive National Environmental Policy Act documentation if the routine import request does not identify new areas of consideration. This would streamline approvals for market requests to import plants in growing media, while still protecting against the introduction of plant pests.”

The EA does not change requirements under the Endangered Species Act, and APHIS will continue to work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to ensure imported plants in growing media are in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

APHIS invites the public to review and comment on the draft EA by May 10, 2019. The EA can be viewed here. Members of the public will be able to submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2018-0101.