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Bill Addresses Imported Orchids, Invasive Pests

October 31, 2019, 3:15 PM HST
* Updated October 31, 5:01 PM
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Sen. Hirono. File photo.

The US Senate on Thursday approved a package of four appropriations bills set for fiscal year 2020, which included a bipartisan amendment added on the Senate floor by Senator Mazie K. Hirono and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla). The amendment requires the US Department of Agriculture to submit a report on the economic and environmental impacts of importing orchids in growing media.

The bipartisan FY 2020 appropriations package includes annual funding for the federal Departments of Commerce, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and several others. The bill now moves to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House-passed appropriations bills.

“Unfortunately, when it approved the importation of foreign orchids, the USDA ignored the warnings raised by our orchid growers about the threat of invasive species that could be imported as well,” Hirono said. “That is why we need to quantify the impacts and identify the resources necessary to protect Hawai‘i’s orchid industry. This provision is part of a broader appropriations package that includes numerous important priorities for Hawai‘i.”

The Hirono-Rubio amendment responds to concerns that Hawai‘i and other agricultural producers have raised about the threat posed by microscopic pests hitching a ride on imported orchids in media to Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystems. This provision would, for the first time, require the collection of data from local orchid growers on a state-by-state basis to include incidences of pest detection on orchids imported in growing media. It also mandates an analysis of additional resources needed to prevent and mitigate the introduction of pests resulting from importing orchids in growing media.

In 2014, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began the rulemaking process to allow the importation of orchids in growing media from Taiwan and Korea. In response to Hawai‘i orchid growers’ concerns, Hirono led the Hawai‘i delegation in sending comment letters to APHIS expressing concern with the proposed rules in 2015 and 2017. Despite these concerns, USDA APHIS moved forward with publishing final rules to allow importation of orchids in growing media.

Under the amendment Hirono helped to successfully include in the legislation, USDA is required to assess the economic and environmental impacts of these final rules on local orchid growers and outline additional resources necessary to protect growers.

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