Nations Watch for Poison Fruit

THE United States, Canada, and Japan announced Tuesday that they were holding up all imports of Chilean fruit and have urged stores to withdraw Chilean fruit from their shelves, after two Chilean grapes containing cyanide were found in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Chile's Interior Minister Carlos Caceres, addressing his nation on television, blamed the outlawed Communist Party for the fruit poisoning. He said steps had been taken to guard fruit shipments from the farms to the ports and ensure that Chile continued to be a ``reliable supplier'' on international markets.

A US Embassy official said the Chilean government had increased on-site inspections at fruit farms, at packing facilities, and at the ports.

In Brussels, the European Community put all member countries on alert for Chilean fruit imports, an EC spokesman said. All 12 EC countries will impose strict monitoring of fruit imports from Chile and report their findings to Brussels.

US Food and Drug Commissioner Frank Young said he expected American grocers to respond with a national withdrawal of grapes from the market. He said some grapes could contain more cyanide than the small amount found in the two grapes in Philadelphia.

He said the cyanide had been found after threats had been made against all Chilean fruit.

``It was not specifically grapes, it was all the fruit. So we have been looking at melons, grapes, pears, apples, a variety of small berries.''

Mr. Young said grapes make up 70 percent of the fruit coming in from Chile at this time of year.

``This may be an isolated incident, but we can hardly take that chance,'' Young said.

Chile exported $584 million in fresh fruit in 1988, more than half of which was sold to US consumers. The United States is Chile's main market for table grapes, buying 75 percent of the $315 million worth exported last year.

US officials said consumers should not be worried about fruit consumed in the past because, unlike pesticides, which accumulate over time, cyanide is fast-acting.

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