U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Aerostar Airport Holdings, the Puerto Rico Agriculture Department and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, joined in announcing Wednesday the implementation of the international “Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest” outreach program, a multi-agency initiative. The announcement was made at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport.
Puerto Rico is the second island in the Caribbean to partner in the initiative, after Jamaica launched its program in 2012.
The “Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest” program is designed to raise public awareness about the risks associated with passengers potentially introducing pests and diseases into Puerto Rico, the U.S. and the Caribbean region, by carrying agricultural and food items in their luggage when they travel.
“The ‘Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest’ program was conceived to extend the protection of Florida’s food supply and environment to our Caribbean neighbors and beyond,” said Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry Division Director, Richard Gaskalla.
“We are bringing information to all our constituents and partners because we want them to work closely with us,” stated Leyinska Wiscovitch, from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Thousands of pounds of agricultural produce are confiscated at ports of entry from passengers on a daily basis. Some travelers are not aware these items are prohibited, while some knowingly attempt to bring in prohibited items.
“Agriculture inspections are a crucial part of the inspection process for items entering into the country,” said Marcelino Borges, director of Field Operations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “A single dangerous pest could cause millions of dollars of damage to our nation’s crops.”
These undeclared items pose a serious threat to our food and natural resources as exotic invasive pests can enter through this pathway and become established, causing millions of dollars to manage or eradicate. In addition, these unwanted invaders can result in loss of export markets due to quarantines and can negatively impact natural areas.
“Our office of Agro-commercial Integrity remains vigilant that all agricultural products comply with phytosanitary requirements,” Puerto Rico Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas said. ”We join this partnership to create awareness.”
If travelers know ahead of time what they can and cannot take in their baggage, they will avoid possible fines as well as avoid having the items confiscated. The focus of this creative agricultural protection outreach program in Florida and Puerto Rico is appropriate as both are linked as high-risk areas vulnerable to new pest introductions through trade and tourism.
“At Aerostar Airport Holdings we recognize our responsibility in providing the necessary support to the agencies that protect Puerto Rico and U.S. borders from invasive plant pest and diseases. We look forward to collaborate with this program since SJU has been recognized as an important destination for this initiative,” said Agustin Arellano, CEO for Aerostar Airport Holdings, and current operator of the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.
The “Travelers Don’t Pack a Pest” includes airing a sixty (60) second video and the placement of signs at strategic areas in major airports and cruise ship ports, along with distribution of other public education materials to the traveling public. These program elements deliver a simple message, “When you travel, declare agriculture items, Don’t Pack a Pest.”