(July 25, 2:27 p.m.) While patrolling the Ontario International Airport, Ontario, Calif., C.C., a San Bernardino County Agricultural Commissioner parcel inspection dog, discovered a box of mangoes from India. That led to allegations that an importer knowingly skirted strict phytosanitary laws.

After a lengthy investigation into the April 2007 incident, the California Attorney General’s Office on July 9 filed a lawsuit against New Jersey-based Bombino Express Worldwide, alleging the company imported mangoes that hadn’t undergone the required irradiation treatment.

In spring 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed mangoes from India into the U.S. for the first time in 18 years, provided they are irradiated.

According to the lawsuit, Bombino violated the Food and Agriculture Code by failing to label and irradiate mangoes to kill any fruit fly larvae before exporting the products to the U.S., according to an attorney general’s office news release. The suit is seeking $10,000 per violation of the code and unfair competition statute. The company could face penalties up to $1.67 million for 167 violations of California law.

Jan Van Rein, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the discovery of the single carton led to a discovery of more cartons of mangoes, yams and other commodities destined for numerous cities throughout California. He would not identify the buyers or suppliers of the produce. The suit alleges the company repeatedly shipped mislabeled produce in order to sidestep state and federal inspection and treatment regulations, Van Rein said.

“We only have a few parcel inspection dogs out there now as part of a pilot program, but even with just those few dogs we’re finding hundreds of packages that contain illegal or mislabeled material,” he said. “The potential for infestation from a single illegally imported package is obvious. Every time these dogs identify an illegal package with quarantined pests in it, we potentially save millions of dollars in response and eradication costs.”

Calls to Bombino Express’s chief executive officer, Mohmed Yasin Latiwala, were not returned. Latiwala told The Associated Press that he was surprised by the lawsuit and has been cooperating with investigators.

Dog sniffs out allegedly illegal mangoes
C.C., a Labrador mix who was rescued from an animal shelter in Florida and trained as a parcel-sniffing dog by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and her handler, Michael Cochrane, regularly screen packages at the Ontario International Airport, Ontario, Calif. In April 2007, C.C. discovered a package of mislabeled mangoes, which led to a lawsuit against New Jersey-based Bombino Express Worldwide that could amount to more than $1.67 million.

Courtesy San Bernardino County Agriculture Commissioner