Business / Industries

US cranberries clear vital hurdle as inspectors certify them pest-free

By Amy He in New York (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-28 10:19

Thanksgiving in the United States is often associated with cranberries as more than 20 percent of the red berry consumption takes place during the holiday. But what seems to have really excited cranberry growers in the US during this Thanksgiving is the arrival of the much-anticipated certificate that will significantly boost the red berry exports to China, where demand is growing steadily.

The US Cranberry Marketing Committee said on Tuesday that the United States Department of Agriculture has started issuing phytosanitary certificates for frozen cranberry shipments to China.

Phytosanitary certificates are issued to produce growers and handlers after USDA or state inspectors ensure that crops and produce do not have any pests or pathogens that can be carried into other countries upon shipment. The certificates are generally issued for fresh crops and produce and are required by the Chinese government. Frozen cranberries were previously considered ineligible for the certificates.

The lack of phytosanitary certificates for frozen cranberries meant that once the fruit was shipped to China, it had to be quarantined at Chinese ports and checked thoroughly before being allowed into the market. The whole process made frozen cranberries expensive, Scott Soares, executive director of CMC, told China Daily.

"The Chinese government was looking for the issuance of this certificate, and we knew that this was being issued by Canada and Chile for frozen cranberries. It was putting us at a competitive disadvantage, because additional storage time was holding back a particular product from the US," he said.

The green light for frozen cranberries opens doors for frozen blueberries and strawberries to get the certification, the CMC said.

"It is unusual that a certificate is issued for a frozen product, primarily because it is an inspection that the product is not carrying pests and pathogens, and once a product is processed - in the case of cranberries, frozen - it is highly unlikely that there are any pathogens or pests associated with that product," said Soares.

The CMC identified China as a target market in 2012, despite the fruit being relatively unknown in the country, and has worked with chefs and other authorities to raise awareness of the fruit.

Soares said that the berry - a native North American fruit - has qualities that are particularly attractive for the Chinese consumers. The berry's low sugar content means that it can be applied to foods both sweet and savory, he said, in addition to the cranberry's health benefits.

"It has some unique health benefits that are very attractive to the Chinese market, primarily because of things like antibiotic resistance and urinary tract infections and stomach issues," he said. "Not to mention it is also a naturally red fruit, which is an advantage in the China market."

The volume of cranberries shipped to China has jumped in the last two years. CMC saw an 86 percent increase in export volume from 2012 to 2013, and a 104 percent increase from 2013 to 2014. According to Soares, about 58,000 barrels of frozen cranberries were exported to China in 2014, which works out to about 6 million pounds of the fruit.

Cranberries join a host of other US fruits that are finding strong demand from Chinese customers, such as pears and apples from Washington State. Pears from the US are new to the Chinese market, having only been in the market for two years after the Chinese government agreed to allow the fruit into the country.

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