Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the August 2011 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam warns travelers, “Don’t pack a pest.”
Along with counterparts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol, and Miami-Dade County, Putnam recently kicked off a pest-exclusion outreach campaign at Miami International Airport.
The theory behind the program is it’s much less expensive to prevent a pest introduction than it is to wage a multi-million-dollar eradication campaign. Or worse, having to live with a costly new pest.
The effort is nothing new. I have refrigerator magnets dating back who knows how long ago that promote “don’t pack a pest.” What is new is county, state and federal agencies all working together.
What also is new is funding from a pest exclusion portion of the 2008 farm bill, says Denise Feiber, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
At one time, USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine officers focused on high-risk pest entryways while Immigrations and Customs focused on other types of contraband, such as explosives and illegal imports.
After Sept. 11, PPQ was integrated into the Department of Homeland Security, and former USDA employees concentrated more on weapons and bomb detection than searching for pests and agricultural contraband.
More recently, that has changed, Feiber says.
“There’s been a lot of progress from those initial years of them taking over,” she says.
“There’s a lot more focus by CPB on agricultural items now than there was in the beginning.”
The pest outreach campaign piggybacks onto Customs and Border Patrol’s model ports program—an educational effort designed to make entering the United States more streamlined and user friendly.
In Florida, the pest campaign is starting with Miami International Airport. Depending on the success there, the program could expand to other airports and even seaports, such as Port Canaveral, Feiber says.
Public service videos will be shown as incoming international passengers make their way through customs. Miami-Dade County, which operates Miami International Airport, has donated 25 signs throughout the baggage area.
The goal is to educate passengers about the risks involved with bringing in agricultural contraband.
The efforts at Miami International are a good first step in agency cooperation. But the true test will be whether the number of passengers voluntarily giving up their agricultural contraband increases because the message has sunk in.
For more information on the Don’t Pack a Pest program, visit http://www.freshfromflorida.com.