Friday, March 30, 2012

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty...from pests

The quote "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, but most likely was first penned by Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist and defender of Native Americans' rights from Massachusetts.  The same quote could be applied accurately to the effort to keep our country free from disruptions caused by exotic pests.  Without continual vigilance, our country would be overrun (more than it already is) with exotic pests and new pest problems.

A recent five-kilo rice interception at DFW airport contained
evidence of khapra beetle, a notorious quarantine pest. Photo
by Customs and Border Protection.
This point came home to me again recently as I read one of the regular reports I receive from Morris Bigham, Chief Agriculture Specialist for Customs and Border Protection at the Dallas /Fort Worth International (DFW) airport.  Every month various pests are intercepted from the luggage of travelers at airports like DFW.  Mostly these folks are not nefarious smugglers, but average people who are either ignorant of the laws prohibiting transportation of foods and pest, or who think the law doesn't really apply to them.

Take just one example from the latest report:
"On February 06, 2012 a passenger arrived at DFW International Airport from India... The passenger was referred to agriculture secondary for inspection. The passenger did not declare any items of agriculture interest...and a verbal declaration was unattainable due to a language barrier. During the inspection of the passenger’s luggage, 5 kilograms [about 10 lbs] of rice was discovered. The rice was seized and quarantined for further inspected. Upon further inspection of the rice, a coleoptera [beetle] cast skin was found. Tentative identification of Trogoderma granarium [khapra beetle] was given for the cast skin. As a result, the specimen was forwarded to the local USDA Area Identifier for further identification. The rice was destroyed by steam sterilization. On February 29, 2012, final identification of the pest was received, confirming the tentative identification of Trogoderma granarium...a quarantine significant pest."
If you're like most people, you've probably never heard of khapra beetle, but it is one of the most destructive pests of stored grain in the world. According to Wikipedia, "infestations are difficult to control because of the insect's ability to survive without food for long periods, its preference for dry conditions and low-moisture food, and its resistance to many insecticides."  The only real protection we in the U.S. have from this beetle are the dedicated men and women charged with the behind-the-scenes task of inspecting luggage and shipped grain from overseas.  Last month at DFW airport alone USDA/APHIS intercepted 348 passenger and 45 cargoes with pest evidence.  It's amazing to me that with all the international travel that we have managed to keep khapra beetle, and many other pests like it, out of the country so long.

Perhaps it's stories like this that make me not laugh at stories people tell when they brag about how they smuggled something in from a foreign junket.  A sad (for me, because I like her as an actor) example of this occurred on the Tonight Show a couple of month ago. Guest Sandra Bullock let slip on the show that she had smuggled holiday sausage into the country as part of a family tradition. Of course it was all great fun, and the audience enjoyed the anecdote, but it left me feeling a little like listening to a joke about the antics of a drunk driver.  Pretty funny until you know someone who's an alcoholic, or who has lost a loved one from a drunk driving incident.

So as you're eating your whole grain cereal tomorrow think about those good folks from the Homeland Security agencies and the work they are doing to keep your breakfast affordable and pest free.


Stinger said...

I would rather see Homeland Security focus on this effort than terrorizing young and old at the airports. I too have seen the reports and this just scares me, it could damage a lot of food in the making.

Pest Removal said...

A combination of education - getting aware - and vigilance will help keep us pest-free. We may think that smuggling food is just a small harmless act which also gives us a thrill - but this seemingly harmless act can have serious repercussions.