A Rosa gallica by any other name?USDA Levies New Requirements on Imported Plants and Plant Products

Jan 06, 2009   

The Lacey Act is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s primary tool for combating illegal imports of wildlife, fish, and plants. Under the Act, it is unlawful to import – or for that matter to “export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase” – any plant harvested or traded in violation of any state’s laws, or most foreign laws.

Amendments to the Act in 2008 expanded its reach to protect more plants and plant products. (Before these amendments, many of these restrictions only applied to endangered species.) As of December 15, 2008, certain plants and plant products cannot be imported into the United States without an import declaration. This declaration must indentify the following information:

– scientific name of any imported plant (including genus and species),
– value of the importation,
– quantity of the plant, and
– name of the country from which the plant was taken (not just exported).

There are certain types of plants that are exempt from the new amendments. These include “common cultivars” (except trees), common food crops, scientific specimens of plant genetic material used in research, and plants that are to remain planted or to be planted or replanted. The USDA will be defining exactly what is meant by a “common cultivar” in the coming months.

It is important to note that import declarations are also required for plant products. Examples of such products – to the extent that they contain covered plants – include lumber, paper, furniture, sporting goods, musical instruments, vehicles, pharmaceuticals and textiles. The effect for importers will be far-reaching.

An electronic system soon will become available for collecting the information required on the declaration. In the meantime, importers may submit a paper form containing the required information on a voluntary basis. Once the electronic systems are in place, declarations will be mandatory and civil and criminal penalties may apply for failure to comply. Merchandise found to be in violation of these provisions may be subject to seizure and forfeiture.

To help importers generate the required information, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has developed an online tool for looking up the genus and species names of plants. The tool is invaluable for complying with the new Lacey Act amendments. It can also make you sound smarter as you present your loved one with a gorgeous bouquet of Dianthus caryophyllus.

Fuerst Ittleman has years of experience in meeting USDA and other government agency requirements for the importation of plants and plant products. For assistance with your valuable importations, please contact us at 305 350 5690 or contact@fidjlaw.com.