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Our Opinion: Quarantine may make sense

September 02, 2001

There is growing concern among farmers in the Southwest regarding problems with canteloupes imported from Mexico.

Two people have died and other have become sick from salmonella in recent months after eating canteloupe imported from across the border, and this is not a new problem.

We join farmers in calling for officials on this side of the border to consider a quarantine on Mexico-grown canteloupes.

First, there is the concern that more people could be made sick from Mexican canteloupes, and that should be an overriding issue in considering such a quarantine. Certainly if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thought enough to issue a food safety warning in May, a quarantine may be warranted.

There is a second reason for such a quarantine — one grounded in economics. The problem is if consumers swear off canteloupes because of health concerns, many likely will swear off all canteloupes, not just Mexican canteloupes. That could devastate the canteloupe crop here, which is a big one and was doing well until the Mexican salmonella scare last year. After the scare prices for canteloupes bottomed out.


This is a critical matter to those in farming, and agriculture is the leading industry in the Imperial Valley. Thus, what affects agriculture affects the local economy as a whole.

We do not support any sort of stigma being attached to Mexico that would hurt farmers in that country. But we do have to recognize that there is a problem that must be addressed. Once Mexico can prove it can consistently provide a clean crop, the quarantine might be lifted. That may take some time, but right is right.

If government officials don't go along with the quarantine proposal, more vigorous inspection of Mexican canteloupes seems a must. Having 1 percent of the fruit examined seems far to lax a standard.

This situation leads us to recall Europe's mad cow disease. Whether the problem has been solved or not, Europe's beef markets will be feeling the effect of the mad cow scare for years to come.

We know it is not politically correct to condemn Mexican products in these days of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But if a product is killing markets and killing people, something drastic has to be done.

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