State searches for imported coffee-growing kits after hundreds pulled from store shelves

Photo: Department of Agriculture

Hundreds of coffee-growing kits are being pulled from store shelves, and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is investigating how they got shipped to Hawaii.

The kits, which are manufactured by Dunecraft Inc. in Ohio, contain African coffee seeds, which are prohibited from being imported into Hawaii.

They were initially discovered by a customer on Kauai on Tuesday, June 27. The customer alerted the University of Hawaii, who referred the discovery to HDOA’s Plant Pest Control Branch. Inspectors were dispatched to the store, and 12 kits were pulled immediately.

The company told the department that each of its 42 stores were sent 12 kits each.

Officials say both the retailer and product distributor were informed that the kits cannot be sold and have been very cooperative.

All but 10 kits have been accounted for — six were sold on Kauai, three were sold on Oahu, and one was sold in Kona on Hawaii island.

If you purchased a kit, you’re instructed to keep it contained and contact the department as soon as possible at 643-PEST (7378) statewide, or the Oahu Plant Quarantine Branch at (808) 832-0566.

“That’s where the most risk would be, once they move (the coffee plant) outside the container. If there is an insect or plant disease, that’s when it could become airborne and get into our coffee farms,” explained John McHugh, administrator of the department’s Plant Industry Division. “We are especially concerned about Kauai, because it’s the largest coffee farm in the U.S. with approximately 3,000 acres of coffee.”

“The consumer’s action to report this problem shows how the public plays a critical role in helping to protect Hawaii from agricultural and environmental pests,” said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “The Department relies on the efforts of its many partners in the state, federal and public sector to help address Hawaii’s biosecurity.

HDOA has a long-standing quarantine which requires that coffee plants and seeds for propagation be held in quarantine by HDOA for a minimum of one year before being released for planting to help assure that the plants are not carrying any diseases or pests. In addition, to import coffee plants, plant parts including seeds or green beans and used coffee bags, require a permit and certification of specific quarantine treatment.

Restrictions on coffee import were established to protect Hawaii’s major coffee industry from the introduction of diseases and pests from other areas of the world.

The coffee berry borer, which has made its way to parts of Hawaii Island, Oahu and recently Maui, is native to Africa where there are other serious pests and diseases such as coffee rust. Due to the lack of a large coffee-growing industry on the U.S. mainland, national coffee import rules are not as strict as Hawaii’s.

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