US (HI): Provision requires USDA to study impacts of importing orchids

The U.S. Senate approved a package of four fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills on an 84-9 vote. In addition to supporting many needed investments for Hawaii, the legislation included a bipartisan amendment added on the Senate floor by Senator Mazie K. Hirono and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to submit a report on the economic and environmental impacts of importing orchids in growing media. 

“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. That is why we need to quantify the impacts and identify the resources necessary to protect Hawaii’s orchid industry,” Senator Hirono said. “This provision is part of a broader appropriations package that includes numerous important priorities for Hawaii and I will continue to fight to secure these provisions as the legislation goes to conference with the House.”

The Hirono-Rubio amendment responds to concerns that Hawaii and other agricultural producers have raised about the threat posed by microscopic pests hitching a ride on imported orchids in media to Hawaii’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 Hawaii orchid growers’ concerns, Senator Hirono led the Hawaii 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 Senator Hirono successfully included 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.

Additionally, Senator Hirono teamed up with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to include a separate measure on the floor that would provide $5 million in funding to support urban agriculture, which supports activities such as indoor and vertical farms, community gardens, and urban farms.

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