Here's a Q&A with the
Is Made in America even more crucial these days, when it comes to lumber and products made and grown here, in light of keeping even more pests out of our country?
We use science-based standards to assess the risk associated with agricultural imports and we work to determine ways to mitigate that risk. We cooperate with our trade partners to protect the environment in our respective countries. Just as we regulate what is allowed to enter our country based upon pest and disease concerns, so do other countries.
Trade plays a vital role in the American economy. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion. And, overall, American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in the United States and provides American consumers with 83 percent of the food we consume, while maintaining affordability and choice. Recent figures show the number of jobs supported by American exports have grown 1.2 million since 2009, while total U.S. exports hit a record $2.1 trillion last year, up 34 percent from 2009.
By building solid trading relationships with our foreign partners, we help ensure that they will treat our requests for access with similar attention—potentially opening new market opportunities for U.S. products abroad.
USDA is very active in helping to establish science-based, international standards to keep out foreign animal and plant pests and diseases through the International Plant Protection Convention. For example, thanks to international standards we helped to establish in 2002, wood packaging material that could be carrying tree-killing beetles must now be treated and marked with an official international stamp. We're committed to promoting safe trade so American consumers can enjoy the same variety and quality of foods all year long.
Is America producing more of its own lumber, compared to what's been imported during recent building booms? Is less imported wood coming into the ports and why/why not is that good for invasive pest control?
I think this question may be better answered by the Virginia
We have restrictions in place to require that imported wood and wood products come into the country pest-free—inspections, treatments, etc. We also have domestic programs in place to help control the spread of invasive forest pests to try to minimize the impact these pests have on the forestry industry.
What additional steps are the ports taking to keep out invasive pests, as well as plants?
Shipments of approved commodities must be accompanied by APHIS import permits and official sanitary or phytosanitary certification from the country of origin, which indicate that any pest or disease risk has been sufficiently mitigated. Certain approved commodities must undergo and pass preclearance inspection in the country of origin before being shipped to the United States. APHIS may also require that commodities undergo treatment—such as fumigation or temperature treatments— and/or mandatory quarantine prior to being allowed entry into the United States. Different pests and diseases affect different commodities in different countries in unique ways, so we regulate every agricultural commodity on a country-by-country, commodity-by-commodity basis.
Shipments must also be cleared upon arrival in the United States. The
APHIS also inspects the huge volume of plants, cuttings, seeds and propagative material that enters the United States. APHIS maintains 17 plant inspection stations at ports of entry throughout the country, including major international airports and seaports and key crossings along the U.S.-Mexican border, to inspect plant materials shipped into the United States by brokers, travelers, and nursery owners. APHIS inspectors ensure that these shipments comply with import regulations and that any pest or disease risks are sufficiently mitigated. In addition, APHIS is responsible for the inspection and quarantine of imported live animals, including embryos, hatching eggs, and semen to assure the status of their health and prevent the introduction of diseases that could impact both animals and humans. APHIS operates three Federal Animal Import Quarantines and maintains a presence at other privately owned quarantine facilities strategically stationed around the country.
This includes a relatively new program in APHIS which evaluates proposed new Plants for Planting for inclusion on the Not Authorized Pending Pest Risk Analysis (NAPPRA) category. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/plant_imports/Q37/nappra/index.shtml.
Until recently, APHIS regulations categorized imported plants as either prohibited (not allowed) or restricted (allowed under certain conditions) and did not require a pest risk analysis prior to the importation of a new taxonomic group of plants. All plants for planting not listed as prohibited were considered restricted articles. NAPPRA is a third import category which lists taxa of plants for planting for which scientific evidence indicates that the taxa are quarantine pests or hosts of quarantine pests. This new category allows us to take prompt action on evidence that the importation of a taxon of plants for planting may pose a risk while continuing to allow for public participation in the process.
We also have the Federal noxious weed program, which is designed to keep damaging weeds out of the United States and to detect and, if possible, eradicate newly introduced weeds that pose a high agricultural or environmental risk (this addresses your question about plants). These weeds include Federally designated noxious weeds as well as parasitic plant pests. Once a plant is designated as a Federal noxious weed, it is considered a quarantine pest, which means that it does not yet exist in the United States or, if present, is of limited distribution and under official control. It is also not allowed to be imported into the U.S. or only under special circumstances. Additionally, this designation indicates that the plant is capable of causing economic and/or environmental harm. To learn more, visit:
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/weeds/index.shtml. APHIS currently regulates 111 taxa, and continues to evaluate others for possible regulation. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/weeds/nwpolicy2001.shtml
What happens when an invasive anything is found?
If it is suspected to be a regulated or restricted pest or item, inspectors at the port of entry make sure to get a positive identification before acting. The shipment would be held pending identification. If the pest ID is confirmed, a treatment may be required, or the shipment may be destroyed or re-exported. We would not allow the shipment to proceed into the country after an actionable pest or disease was found on the shipment without taking one of these actions.
Native plant enthusiasts wonder why garden centers are still allowed to sell what they consider invasive plants like Chinese wisteria when there is an American wisteria?
Sales and movement within a state's boundaries are mostly under state authority, not federal. APHIS authority mainly depends on whether the invasive meets the international definition of a quarantine pest—basically, the pest is new to the country or not widely distributed and we have an official program in place to control the spread of the pest. We have legislative authority to do that, and any action we take depends upon whether or not we are legally empowered to act, which varies by the type of pests.
Federal authority is not the only authority. States retain most authorities within their own boundaries. Federal entities on Federal land use a Federal invasives management plan. See link http://www.invasivespecies.gov/main_nav/mn_NISC_ManagementPlan.html ; the land management agencies were involved in developing this plan.
What legislative controls are being considered that are not in place now?
See http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/laws/bills.shtml State legislation proposals vary.
Are we too lenient with imports?
All potential new imports undergo a rigorous risk assessment process before they are approved for importation. This includes gathering information about pests and diseases established in the country of export (we work with countries to collect this information constantly and track this information in a database), determining what emerging pest and disease threats there are in the country, researching the best ways to mitigate these threats (following certain procedures on the farm and when the item is being packed for shipment, treatments to kill pests and diseases, etc.), and developing regulations to require these things to prevent the introduction of invasive pests and diseases. When an invasive pest or disease is detected here, we act quickly to determine the extent of the infestation and take appropriate action to prevent its spread. All of our standards are science-based and determined after extensive research.
Our approach to the fight against invasive species is three-pronged.
The first front is abroad — we fight pests and diseases over there so they don't come over here. This means:
- Assisting other countries in their pest and disease survey, control, suppression and/or eradication efforts.
- Inspecting certain U.S.-bound exports to ensure they're pest- and disease-free before they depart.
- Helping other countries to develop the capability to export safe agricultural products to the United States. For example, we have a formal program with
Mexicoand Guatemalato eradicate the Medfly from Mexico and maintain a barrier against the pest in Guatemala. By halting the Medfly’s northern spread, we protect the United States from a serious agricultural threat.
The second front is at the border — we stop the pests at the gate. This means:
- Establishing import regulations and international standards to keep out foreign animal and plant pests and diseases, as well as harmful weeds.
- We work with other countries to develop science-based standards that we all agree to through the International Plant Protection Convention.
- Thanks to international standards we helped to establish in 2002, wood packaging material that could be carrying tree-killing beetles must now be treated and marked with an official international stamp.
- Supporting agricultural inspections at U.S. ports of entry by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Preventing the entry of smuggled agricultural goods.
The last front is across the homeland — we search for any agricultural threats that might have slipped through. This means:
- Conducting surveys across the country for invasive pests each year with our State partners.
- Detecting pests and diseases early and responding rapidly to avoid large-scale agricultural, environmental and economic losses—and to keep our export markets open.
- Informing the public about the risk of invasive species and teaching them how to protect America's natural beauty and agricultural bounty.
Nutria is another invasive pest that was brought here with a purpose, just like kudzu; are we too quick to jump to what we think are beneficials when they turn out to be horror stories?
Nutria and kudzu were introduced in previous centuries, when invasiveness was not assessed. Only utility for possible economic gain was considered important. Today, we assess new species being considered for introduction for invasive characteristics and we evaluate the potential risk associated with importing a new agricultural commodity and determine ways to mitigate that risk before we allow the commodity to be imported.
You had mentioned that you checked out the Hungry Pests website. This is taken directly from there, but it's good advice for gardeners:
Gardeners know nature's balance. Be careful not to tilt the scales with a Hungry Pest.
A gardener's hand can direct the ebb of life and transform a landscape. And with that ability comes responsibility. Be sure that Hungry Pests aren't part of your design. Keep your eyes open and know the right things to do.
- Always declare any plant material brought in from travel abroad.
- Buy your plants from a reputable source. Avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.
- Remove invasive plants from your garden.
- Until you are able to rid your garden of invasive plants, be responsible and remember to remove and destroy seed heads before they can spread. Also, don’t share invasives with other gardeners.
- Talk to other gardeners about invasives and how you plan to help in the fight against them.
- If you are worried that your garden will lose its luster after removing invasives, talk to your local native plant society or exotic pest plant council. These organizations will be able to suggest suitable native replacements.
- Report any suspected invasive species to your county extension agent or local USDA office.
- If you suspect agricultural smuggling, please call USDA's Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance unit at (800) 877-3835.
It is difficult to specify only one plant or pest problem—different pests and diseases affect different crops and industries. A forest pest like emerald ash borer would be less of concern to, say, a corn farmer than to a company that produces baseball bat (and vice versa). We do have a list of our "most unwanted" pests which may help to illustrate this better: http://hungrypests.com/the-threat/.
Source: Alyn G. Kiel, public affairs specialist, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture