“Feds Seize Rare Insect in Flower Shipment” blare the headlines of a recent article. This article received the tags, “News” and “Weird”. However, it is neither news nor weird; it is old hat and ordinary. Every day, inspectors at the US border find potential insect pests hitchhiking on imported goods.
Miami is the closest port to much of Central and South America. Many tropical fruits destined for American dinner tables, ornamental plants and cut flowers enter the Miami ports every day. Every day, potential insect pests are turned away at the border. How many more potential insect pests are making their way into the US when they escape detection?
Insects found at the border are sent to entomologists across the US for identification. Is the insect a potential pest? Or is it a harmless look-alike? The large number of interceptions keep entomologists busy. As trade increases, inspection becomes more problematic.
One idea for reducing the number of interceptions is better practices and better inspections before the goods leave their ports. Pilot programs are training inspectors in countries that export to the US. One of these programs, “Clean Stock” involves Purdue researchers who are trying to reduce insect pests on nursery stock from Costa Rica. These programs have the potential to save money for the shippers and protect the environment in the US. If a shipment is infested, it will be returned to sender or destroyed. Either way, the shipper can be out the cost of the goods plus the shipping charges. If the pests are missed, they could establish in the US and cause ecological and economic damage. Better inspections and better pest control in other countries can be part of a win-win solution to reducing the numbers of pest insects that are accidentally introduced into the US.