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Tomato, Pepper Prices Could Rise from New Import Tariffs

EVANSVILLE, Ind., Sept. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week imposed major import restrictions on tomato and pepper seeds after discovering that many of those seeds have been silently carrying a serious plant disease into the country.

The restrictions are intended to protect U.S. agriculture from an outbreak, the agency says. But industry groups fear they also will drastically reduce the number of seeds growers can obtain in the coming year.

"It has the ability to significantly impact the availability of tomato seeds," said John Mizicko, the business development manager for Eurofins BioDiagnostics Inc., which performs plant and seed health testing and treatments.

"There will be less seed. So, when you go buy tomatoes at the grocery store, they're not going to be $1.99 a pound. They're going to be a lot more expensive."

Nearly all of the tomato and pepper seeds used in the United States -- and around the world -- are produced in Asian countries, namely China, as well as Mexico and South America.

Seed companies save a lot of money by producing the seeds overseas, said Mizicko, who is a certified crop adviser with a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University. But that means those seeds are exposed to plant diseases that are not present in the U.S.

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