U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agriculture Specialists conducted nearly 5 million agricultural cargo inspections last fiscal year, up more than 16 percent over the year before. Many shipments get routine inspections; others are targeted for closer scrutiny for various reasons. Last month, one carried the beginnings of a dangerous insect that was, fortunately, stopped dead in its tracks.
On the morning of February 17, 2005, at the New York Container Terminal in Staten Island, New York, CBP Agriculture Specialists were processing cargo coming in from the Far East. A group of containers had been targeted by CBP for a more in-depth inspection. One of those containers, manifested as a reefer, (or refrigerated container), listed its cargo as dry dates, a commodity that normally wouldn’t require refrigeration.
During the inspection of that container, one of the Agriculture Specialists discovered not dried fruits, but fresh dates -- along with some dangerous hitchhikers: live larvae and indications of a substantial and active population of what he thought was Coleoptera, a beetle-like insect. This hitchhiker is known as one of the most destructive pests of pome fruits (apples, pears, quince) in the Far East.
Fresh dates are prohibited into the United States from foreign countries because of the high risk that they might be infested with fruit fly – a pest that has cost this country billions of dollars to control and eradicate. This time, a different type of insect was found among the prohibited dates – one that is unknown for the most part in the United States, and had never been seen in sea cargo before. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) identifiers and identifying experts from the Smithsonian Institution confirmed the insect as Carposinadae. According to interception records, there have been finds of this species in passenger baggage – but data records only 7 incidents in the last 35 years.
“This action shows the critical importance of the CBP Agriculture Specialist in our organization,” said Jayson Ahern, Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations. “The American people should feel confident that the health of U.S. plant and animal resources is being vigilantly safeguarded by our highly trained and dedicated personnel.”
As part of their overall training, conducted jointly by CBP and USDA, CBP Agriculture Specialists receive intensive instruction in pest identification and interception techniques. Agriculture Specialists identify pests “on the spot” in many cases. In other instances, USDA has identification authority for an intercepted pest and the pest must be turned over to USDA/Plant Protection and Quarantine identifiers for positive confirmation. That’s what happened in this case: CBP Agriculture Specialists intercepted the live larvae and other material present among the cargo. It was later positively identified as Carposina niponesis, a significant insect pest in the Far East, but fortunately, not yet an agricultural pest known in this country.
The shipment of dates has been re-exported to the country of origin.
In Fiscal Year 2004, CBP Agriculture Specialists inspected nearly 1 million conveyances; 81 million passengers/pedestrians and conducted nearly 5 million cargo inspections. As a result of those inspections, more than 1.5 million interceptions of prohibited plant materials, meat/poultry products, and animal by-products were recorded. More than 65,000 “actionable” pests were intercepted – pests determined to be direct threats to crops, livestock, and other agricultural resources in the United States.