Inspectors should focus on orchids from Taiwan
Federal approval of a rule permitting imports of orchids from Taiwan has been upheld in court.
A federal judge's decision upholding a federal rule allowing Taiwan to export potted orchids into the United States is causing concern among Hawaii's nurseries.
The state should follow through on hiring additional inspectors to increase inspections of products coming into the state.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth of Washington, D.C., rejected a claim by Hawaii orchid growers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately consider risks of insects in potted orchids. The judge found that the federal agencies used the best scientific evidence to conclude that insects in potted orchids are not likely to harm threatened or endangered species in Hawaii.
That legal gauge provides little confidence of protection for endangered species, especially when only 10 of the 450 USDA staffers inspecting products at Hawaii's ports are examining incoming products. The Legislature has approved funds for 56 more positions in a projected joint inspection facility, and the Lingle administration should assure that those spots are filled and are devoted to inspecting incoming products.
The judge's ruling is limited to potted phalaenopsis, or moth, orchids. Those account for less than 1 percent of the $100 million in sales from Hawaii's locally grown flower and nursery products and less than 5 percent of the $22.2 million in sales of potted-orchids. The ruling may prompt Taiwan to seek permission for import of other types of orchids.
The farmers are more concerned about the economic fallout than the insects. Despite Taiwan's cheap labor and government subsidies, Hawaii farmers are able to compete with Taiwanese plants here because they now are shipped first to California and from there to Hawaii. However, they no longer are able to make large profits on the mainland, where orchid plants that once sold for $75 now go for $20, according to Carmel Watanabe of S&W Orchids Inc.
Carol Okada of the state Agriculture Department's plant quarantine department says the state now is focused on setting up a joint federal-state inspection center. "Working within the same facility, we are more likely to see something they had missed," she told the Star-Bulletin's Craig Gima.
If the inspections reveal invasive species in the incoming potted plants, the Hawaii orchid growers will have ammunition to return to court. Japan has blocked shipments of Taiwan orchids after finding insects or disease.
Without such evidence, an appeal of Lamberth's ruling could carry a risk of entrenching it as precedent if upheld, which is likely. Members of the Hawaii Orchid Growers Association have yet to decide whether to appeal the decision.
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