June 20, 2008

Salmonella Fear Traps Some 30,000 Tons of Tomatoes in Mexico

Nearly 30,000 tons of tomatoes are trapped in northern Mexico due to a salmonella scare in the United States, the Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Feeding Ministry of Mexico (Sagarpa) said on Thursday.

A total of 2,259 hectares of tomatoes were planted in Sonora, which will produce 28,600 tons of tomatoes for the U.S. market in 2008, said Fernando Miranda Blanco, a representative of the northern state of Sonora in Sagarpa.

The situation will turn grave for Mexico's tomato industry if the U.S. maintains the alert of salmonella and the closure of borders, Blanco said.

The U.S. authorities have recently demanded a halt to importing two kinds of tomato from Mexico -- round tomato and saladette tomato, after investigation indicated that they might be salmonella carriers.

The Mexican government said last week that its tomatoes were being unjustly targeted and claimed that the uncommon Salmonella Saintpaul bacteria identified in the tainted-tomato incident has never been found in Mexico.

Most of the tomatoes in Mexico were planted under the protected agriculture system in greenhouses where all the production processes are controlled, Blanco said.

Blanco stressed the Mexican tomatoes are not the cause of the sickness, a claim yet to be certified by the United States.

Farmers in Sonora said they have certificates which could prove that their tomatoes fulfill all the sanitary and innocuous requirements.

By Monday, over 200 people have contracted salmonella in 23 U.S. states since mid-April, according to U.S. health officials.

The United States is still searching for the source of salmonella- tainted tomatoes. The search has begun focusing on southern and central Florida and Mexico, though the FDA said tomato shipments from Mexico and northern Florida were safe if they were accompanied by a certificate from the areas' respective agriculture departments.

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