Pest found in package had citrus disease

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FRESNO, California — Tests on a bug found by a dog sniffing packages at a FedEx facility showed it carried a disease capable of devastating California’s citrus industry, agricultural official said Wednesday.

FRESNO, California — Tests on a bug found by a dog sniffing packages at a FedEx facility showed it carried a disease capable of devastating California’s citrus industry, agricultural official said Wednesday.

But state officials believe the citrus industry escaped potential disaster because the curry leaves carrying the bug were still inside the package at the Fresno airport.

On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture tests confirmed the live Asian citrus psyllid nymph found in the leaves last month was infected with the huanglongbing virus — the first such find west of the Rockies.

Huanglongbing, or citrus greening as it is commonly called, has killed tens of thousands of acres of citrus across Florida and Brazil, and has caused billions of dollars in losses.

"This is pretty scary," said Mike Jarvis, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "There is a potential for a huge problem. Thank goodness for the Fresno dog team."

Joel Nelson, executive director of California Citrus Mutual, said the close call showed the potential vulnerability of the industry.

Chelsea, a young Labrador retriever hit on the package in early July during her routine inspection of packages arriving at the terminal for distribution throughout the community.

The curry leaves had eluded inspectors in Los Angeles, where the package initially arrived in the U.S.

It was the first time psyllids have been found in California north of San Diego and Imperial counties, where they had migrated across the Mexican border. None of those trapped so far has tested positive for the disease.

Fresno County officials have stepped up trapping efforts in the area around the property where the package was to have been delivered.

"Just in case they received packages in the past," said Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Tye Hafner, Chelsea’s handler.

It is illegal to bring plant material into the United States without a permit. Hafner said agricultural officials were investigating.

Citrus officials hope the incident will raise awareness and vigilance at inspection stations.

"California is vulnerable, and all it takes is one individual bringing in host material to cause so much damage," said Larry Hawkins, spokesman for the USDA.

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Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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