USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is currently in the process of overhauling Quarantine 37 (Q-37). Q-37 governs the importation of most types of propagative material, known internationally by the term "plants for planting." It has published the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), which serves as a public notice that an agency is considering various actions and begins the process of seeking public comment on how the agency might accomplish various goals. The ANPR was published December 10, 2004; the public comment period ends March 10, 2005.
American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA), Society of American Florists (SAF), OFA and other industry advocates are spearheading industry cooperation with USDA regarding this important regulation. The associations encourage you to read the ANPR (which can be found at the ANLA Web site www.anla.org  under the heading “APHIS Publishes Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”) and send your thoughts and comments to Craig Regelbrugge (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Lin Schmale (email@example.com ).
Why is APHIS reviewing Q-37? With the exception of periodic amendments, such as the addition of specific plants approved to be import in growing media, Q-37 has changed little over several decades. Increasing international travel and trade — including trade in plants — has led to an apparent increase in new pest and pathogen introductions into the United States. Many introduced plant pests have had devastating effects on the U.S. nursery and greenhouse industry, agriculture and environmental resources.
APHIS has been under increasing pressure to modernize Q-37, according to OFA. In doing so, the agency must meet its obligations under key international agreements, notably the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (WTO-SPS) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). These international agreements require, for example, that plant health measures be transparent, based on sound science, technically justified and the least restrictive necessary to meet the acceptable level of risk. The process of overhauling Q-37 will be complex and controversial, and it will take considerable time, also according to OFA.
OFA believes “it is in our best interest that USDA succeeds at this endeavor. APHIS should be viewed not as the ‘enemy’ in this process, but rather as the gatekeeper responsible for establishing the rules of engagement for those wishing to trade. How a member of the industry sees the stage on this issue depends on where they are sitting in the arena. Those who are not actively trading internationally are apt to favor much stricter safeguards, and are likely to harbor suspicion that the APHIS effort is tilted toward a relaxation of the current quarantine. On the other hand, those actively engaged in international trade — whether for new plant variety exchange or volume trade — may fear disruption of a system to which they have adapted.”
The primary driver for the initiative is the sense that the pest safeguarding system is inadequate insofar as plants for planting are concerned, according to OFA. Recent emergency response programs for pests such as the bacterial pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 and the fungus-like Phytophthora ramorum have cost millions of dollars. OFA states, “In a time of tightening federal budgets, USDA is under pressure to increase the effectiveness of its safeguarding efforts. While leaders in APHIS appear very committed to seeking industry input, pressure to strengthen quarantine measures is coming from other federal agencies, the environmental community, state collaborators and most importantly Congress. Therefore, we need to have a strong voice.”