US growers are divided in their response to the Clinton government's lifting of a longstanding ban on the import of Argentine citrus fruits in June, a move exacted in a bid to provide US consumers with fresh lemons when the US crop is out of season. Argentina grows more than a quarter of the world's total crop of lemons, making it the largest producer of the citrus fruit, and it has petitioned for a lifting of the ban since 1993.

The ban was initially imposed to prevent fruit-damaging diseases from entering the US, and the recent decision has angered a number of Californian citrus growers, who are suing the Agriculture Department to keep the ban in place. It is a sensitive issue for growers, who have already battled a bacterium that caused citrus canker and forced the destruction of whole citrus groves in Florida. Other bacteria have damaged vineyards in California and an imported virus has infected northeastern peach and plum orchards. Joel Nelson, president of growers group California Citrus Mutual, explained: "We want to maintain our viability to compete. Once that disease is introduced, you're quarantined, you lose your groves, and you can't ship."

Officials have assured growers that diseased lemons will not enter the US. Argentina must conform to strict monitoring of crops, and fruit from diseased orchards will not be imported. Every lemon will carry a sticker identifying its origin. The growers are nevertheless pushing legislation in Congress to demand further independent study. Senator Barbara Boxer inserted a provision into an agricultural spending bill that prevents imports after 1 October until this study is completed. Richard Rominger, the deputy secretary responded by saying that the study "would set a bad precedent, not only with Argentina, but with all our trading partners."

The end of the ban pleased other farm groups in America, however they are concerned that the pro-ban lawsuit will damage their hopes that Argentina will soon lift its own import bans on US produce such as peaches and pork. Twenty-seven farm organisations and food companies declared recently that keeping the ban "would send the terrible signal to our trading partners that the US is unwilling to abide by sound science in matters of international trade."

Import figures are expected to reach 1m cartons a year and the first batch arrived in Philadelphia on 18 August, but Argentine lemons cannot reach the five citrus producing states of Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas until 2004. They are also banned from ten neighbouring states until 2002.