Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Agricultural inspectors in Florida have discovered a highly virulent fruit virus in tomatoes that were imported from Mexico.
The tomato brown rugose fruit virus, or ToBRFV, is not dangerous to humans, but is highly damaging to tomato and pepper plants. It can wipe out 30 to 70 percent of the tomatoes in an infected field, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, which announced the discovery Wednesday.
"The ToBRFV tobamovirus was recently intercepted by [Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services] inspectors in packaged Mexican tomatoes" in Naples and Gainesville, according to a department news release. "These tomatoes have been destroyed."
The alert warned that infected Mexican tomatoes could arrive in other U.S. states.
This particular virus spreads easily among tomatoes through contaminated tools, hands, clothing, soil, and from plant to plant, the department said. Pollinators like honeybees and bumblebees also might spread it.
The virus was first discovered in Israel in 2014, and has since spread to Germany, Italy and Mexico. It has also appeared in a California greenhouse, and was eradicated in 2018.
Presence of the virus in Mexico was of particular concern to Florida inspectors, due to the quantity of tomatoes Mexico exports to the United States.
"Mexican-grown tomatoes carrying the ToBRFV virus are a serious threat to Florida," Nikki Fried, the state's agriculture commissioner, said in a statement. "For the past six months, our inspectors have been watching vigilantly for the ToBRFV virus, and are moving swiftly to prevent its introduction in our state."
Florida tomato production is a $262 million a year industry.
"Florida is at high risk for the introduction of harmful invasive plant pests and diseases," said Mike Joyner, the president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. "The spread of this virus would cause serious economic losses for Florida's tomato producers."
The virus causes yellowing of leaf veins in infected plants. The fruit also shows yellowed or wrinkled patches, or necrotic patches. There is no treatment of the disease, leaving plant destruction and biosecurity as the only tools to contain it.