CBP Inspects Almost a Billion Ways to Say “I Love You”

Feb 14, 2013   
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As the last of forgetful but doting husbands, boyfriends, and lovers runs out to buy their special someone flowers on this Valentine’s Day, the inspectors at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are breathing a sigh of relief.

Although final numbers for this season are not yet in, during the period of January 1 through February 14, CBP will see the importation of almost 1 billion stems of cut flowers from around the world, mostly from Central and South America.  During the 2012 Valentine’s season, CBP processed over 842 million stems, and levels of imports were expected  to rise between 7% and 9% this year due to the increasingly healthy U.S. economy.  Most of these cut flowers are coming through CBP inspection sites at Miami International Airport, which saw 716.7 million stems (or ~85% of the total imported cut flowers nationally) imported between January 1 and February 14, 2012.  The flowers come mostly from Colombia (about 67% of the total), followed by Ecuador, with approximately 23% of the total.

With the flowers coming from these locations, many might assume that CBP is looking for illegal narcotics.  And while some drugs are found in shipments, what CBP is really looking for is bugs.

Every year, mixed in among the roses, mixed bouquets, and dianthus (the biggest imports) are invasive, harmful pests such as Tetranychus sp. (mites), Aphididae (Aphids), Agromyzidae (Miner Flies) and Noctuidae (moths).  In 2012, CBP intercepted approximately 2,500 shipments infested with these pests.  Most often, the shipments are fumigated and the flowers continue on their way.  However, some other plants and flowers are intercepted and destroyed at the border.  Chrysanthemums, gladiolas, and orange jasmine from Mexico (which carries the Asian citrus psyllid, a dangerous pest that destroys citrus crops), as well as most flowering plants in soil are prohibited from entering the United States altogether.

Were it not CBP’s pest interdiction efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that billions of dollars in damage to U.S. crops, including vegetables, grains, and flowers, could be done by these pests.  In addition to bugs, CBP is also on the look-out for diseases.  Current CBP interdiction efforts are underway to prevent funguses called “Chrysanthemum White Rust” and “Gladiolus Rust” from entering the U.S.  These diseases, if they gained a toe hold in the United States, could severely damage the domestic flower industry.

So as you pass by the flower shop or roadside-stand filled with blooms, remember that CBP inspectors have played their role to ensure that nothing will “bug” your loved one this Valentine’s Day.