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California growers sue government for Mexican avocado import

California avocado growers are suing the federal government for ending a nearly century-old quarantine and importing Mexican-grown avocados into the state.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Cout on Tuesday, contends that the Mexican avocados contain pests that threaten the $341 million (251 million EUR) California industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Feb. 1 ended a 93-year-old ban. It had been phased out slowly and until this year had limited importation of Mexican avocados to 47 states.

The California Avocado Commission and two growers said the end of the quarantine in California, Florida and Hawaii created "an imminent threat" to the state industry.

"Shipments of infested Mexican avocados are being routinely permitted to enter the U.S. through federally supervised checkpoints," said the lawsuit.

Some imported avocados shipped on Feb. 1 were found to contain "scale insects of unknown species or species not known to occur in California," the suit claimed.

The suit asks the court to bar the government from allowing Mexican avocados into California until risks of an insect infestation have been scientifically determined.

USDA officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it, but the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been working "very closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to resolve the issue" of pests, spokeswoman Andrea McNally said Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

In February, state and federal agriculture officials visited Mexican avocado groves and packing houses and U.S. federal inspection points and reviewed "pest risk prevention practices," she said.

The California Avocado Commission promotes and researches issues ranging from production to sale of avocados grown in the state. It represents about 6,000 commercial avocado growers in the state and their 21,000 employees, the lawsuit said.

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