TORONTO — Creative smugglers, sloppy offloaders and warm warehouses are creating big headaches for those in the Canadian produce industry.
On Feb. 6, the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced they’d seized 44 pounds of cocaine at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, secreted in hollowed-out star apples from Guyana.
Between August and October, Canadian Border Services Agency officers seized more than 62 pounds of cocaine hidden in hollowed-out pineapples from Guyana at the port of Saint John, New Brunswick.
Officials at the Windsor-Detroit border, meanwhile, have intercepted two trucks, each containing 253 pounds of marijuana concealed in wooden pallets of watermelons.
“The more times they find drugs in produce shipments, the more we’re going to be targeted as an industry,” said Ian MacKenzie, president of the Ontario Produce Marketing Association.
The industry is already at odds with the CBSA over damage caused during random inspections at the Canada-U.S. border and the breaking of the cold chain.
Once a customs officer sends a truck for a secondary inspection, an offloading company contracted by CBSA unloads and reloads the truck to search for contraband.
“I don’t know if it’s a lack of training, but I’ve seen photos where they’ve crushed the bottom carton so the entire pallet is off-kilter, and others where they’ve damaged the product,” MacKenzie said.
“It’s not in all the loads, but we’re hearing about quite a few of them.”
Until recently, shippers were reluctant to speak out for fear of having more trucks targeted for inspection, MacKenzie said, but CBSA has assured them this is not the case.
CPMA is now working with the agency to develop standard operating procedures for loading and unloading trucks at the border.
Breaks in the cold chain are proving more difficult to stop.
MacKenzie pulled out a temperature chart for a load of berries transported in August. When the truck was offloaded at the border, the temperature spiked to 82 degrees Fahrenheit before the truck cooled it back down to the proper temperature for the last leg of its trip to Toronto.
“It isn’t so bad with apples, pears or even oranges, which can take a bit of temperature variation, but on a perishable product like leafy greens or berries, loads that can be worth $35,000 to $55,000, you’ve ruined the shelf life of the product,” he said.
Since the only person who knows what happened is the receiver, MacKenzie said many final buyers are now asking for proof that the cold chain wasn’t broken.
He said the CSBA has said it can do little about the problem now, but it is working toward temperature-controlled offloading facilities.
“That’s all we can ask,” he said. “We can jump up and down and stamp our feet, but we’re not going to get warehouses built overnight. At least they realize damage is being done and they’re going to look into it.”