Q: Dear Flash,
Why is it that I can’t bring kumquats—or any number of other fruits—over the border from Mexico, but I can buy Mexican kumquats at the grocery store? How do they know those kumquats are safe and others aren’t?
A: Dear Fruity,
You’ve asked a big question; but the short answer is that fruits with the potential to carry infectious plant diseases or insects must be imported very carefully and harvested from known sources tested to ensure they're clean. Of course, contamination still happens. I guess that’s just the price we all have to pay so folks like you can have your weird tropical fruits.
In Hawaii, there's an ongoing debate over the use of radiation to neutralize pests like fruit fly eggs and larvae. While public outcry derailed a plan to use nuclear radiation to kill fruit pests, a slightly less controversial proposal to irradiate with focused electron beams managed to pass by a 1 percent margin. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave a $6.9 million loan seven years ago to a company called Hawaii Pride to irradiate papayas, longans, rambutans, lychees and star fruit before shipping them to the mainland. In August 2000, the irradiated fruit began shipping.
Opponents of this technology, according to the Organic Consumers Association, contend that while it doesn’t create the same level of environmental hazard as using nuclear material to irradiate fruit, it can still reduce the food’s nutrient value, pose hazards to workers, induce free radicals and radioactivity in food, and open the door for the use of nuclear materials. Maybe you should switch to apples.