'Don't pack a pest' programme launched

NATASHA BECKLES, natashabeckles@nationnews.com

Added 27 February 2014

ST THOMAS (CMC) – A number of United States agencies have collaborated with Caribbean countries in launching a partnership aimed at raising public awareness about the risks associated with passengers potentially introducing pests and diseases into the US and the Caribbean by carrying agricultural and food items in their luggage. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said on Wednesday that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have joined the Caribbean in the initiative. In announcing the implementation of the international Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest programme, the CBP said the US Virgin Islands have joined Puerto Rico and Jamaica as locations in the Caribbean to partner in the initiative. “The Travelers Don't Pack a Pest programme was conceived to extend the protection of Florida's food supply and environment to our Caribbean neighbors and beyond,” said Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry Division Director, Richard Gaskalla.   “We are bringing information to all our constituents and partners because we want them to work closely with us,” said Leyinska Wiscovitch from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). CBP said thousands of pounds of agricultural produce are confiscated at ports of entry from passengers on a daily basis, adding that some travelers are not aware these items are prohibited, while some knowingly attempt to bring in prohibited items. “Agriculture inspections are a crucial part of the inspection process for items entering into the country,” said Marcelino Borges, director of field operations for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. “A single dangerous pest could cause millions of dollars of damage to our nation’s crops.” Borges said these undeclared items pose a “serious threat to our food and natural resources as exotic invasive pests can enter through this pathway and become established, causing millions of dollars to manage or eradicate.” In addition, he said “these unwanted invaders can result in loss of export markets due to quarantines and can negatively impact natural areas.” CBP said if travelers know ahead of time what they can and cannot take in their baggage, they will avoid possible fines, as well as avoid having the items confiscated. “The focus of this creative agricultural protection outreach program in Florida and Puerto Rico is very appropriate as both are linked as high risk areas vulnerable to new pest introductions through trade and tourism,” it said in a statement. CBP said the programme includes airing a 60-second video and the placement of signs at strategic areas in major airports and cruise ship ports, along with distribution of other public education materials to the traveling public. CBP said these programme elements deliver a simple message, “When you travel, declare agriculture items, Don’t Pack a Pest.”

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