CBP takes steps to prevent entry of bird flu
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized 200,000 pounds of prohibited poultry and poultry products in several recent stings, and begun other preventive measures to protect U.S. citizens and commerce from the spread of the avian flu, said Cathy Sauceda, the agency’s special enforcement director.
Most attention on the deadly disease has focused on the public safety implications if the disease is transferred to humans and becomes a global pandemic. But quarantines and other measures to stop the spread of the disease across borders will also have a negative effect on trade and transportation modes.
Avian flu has been reported this year in several Asian countries, as well as Turkey and Romania. Human cases of avian influenza have been reported this year in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
CBP has prohibited poultry and poultry products for human consumption from 10 countries for the last 18 months, but recently expanded the scope of its ban. Now all poultry products, including feathers, from 19 countries are prohibited from being imported into the United States.
The border protection agency is also working with food safety inspectors from the Agriculture Department who visit restaurants, groceries and food distributors, to trace back any problems to importers and manufacturers so the agency can be more selective in targeting cargo without disrupting legitimate shipments, Sauceda told the quarterly meeting of the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee (COAC).
Some CBP offices at local ports have participated in special table-top exercises with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CBP officials will participate in a Department of Homeland Security table-top exercise on Dec. 15 to develop a border control response to an overseas or domestic outbreak of the disease, she said.
The Atlanta-based CDC is opening an office in Washington, which will allow CBP to work more closely with public health officials on an interdiction or prevention plan, she added.
“We are extremely concerned” about the avian flu, said Roger West, director for agriculture safeguarding.
Sauceda said smuggling poses the biggest problem to preventing entry of the disease.
“We’ve had quite a few violations through our eastern seaports,” she said. CBP officers, for example, have found many boxes of chicken feed stuffed in the back of containers full of frozen seafood. Differentiating between the two types of products is not easy for the untrained eye, she added.
Last week, CDC officials proposed that airlines and shipping lines provide passenger manifests within 12 hours of arrival of ill passengers, and that they keep electronic copies of the passenger and crew lists for 60 days to help epidemiologists trace who came in contact with the disease.
Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, suggested that CBP consider seeking better advance data about poultry products of concern so that the agency can interdict shipments before they are loaded on a ship by expanding the information required on the advance electronic manifest used overseas to identify containers that are suspected of posing a terrorist threat.
Ocean carriers are mandated to file cargo manifests 24 hours prior to vessel departure for antiterror screening.
The nightmare scenario for vessel operators is being prevented from unloading at a U.S. port because there is a container with a bird product on board, Koch said.