USDA ON ALERT FOR PESTS ON IMPORTED VALENTINEÆS DAY FLOWERS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will be closely monitoring the increased volumes of imported fresh-cut flowers for Valentine’s Day to ensure they do not contain harmful pests.
Each year, APHIS’s plant protection and quarantine officers inspect millions of fresh-cut flowers arriving at U.S. ports. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, the value of fresh-cut flowers imported into the United States in 1999 reached $592 million. That figure is expected to exceed $600 million in the 2000 figures.
Valentine’s Day has made February one of the busiest months for the agency. About 85 percent of all imported fresh-cut flowers arrive at Miami from Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Ecuador.
“On an average day, 30,000 boxes of flowers pass through Miami’s International Airport,” said Richard L. Dunkle, deputy administrator for APHIS’ plant protection and quarantine program. “These numbers can double during the prime holidays like Valentine’s Day.”
Other ports of entry receiving large shipments of cut flowers are Los Angeles, Houston, and New York, which receives many European varieties.
To make better use of their time, APHIS started testing a new “risk-based” inspection program for cut flowers in Miami in January. During the three-month test, inspectors will spend more time inspecting high-risk varieties of flowers, such as asters from Colombia and Ecuador and less time inspecting low-risk flowers, such as roses from Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala. “If the pilot is a success, it could be expanded to additional ports of entry across the United States,” the agency said.
“We’re always looking for new ways to improve the inspection process,” Dunkle said. “By concentrating on high-risk varieties, the goal is to inspect fewer boxes of flowers, but intercept more foreign pests and diseases.”