Agricultural agents wage war on bugs, plants and disease
A mother from Ecuador who came to visit her pregnant daughter living in Newark was in for a rude shock when the comfort food she brought all the way from Ecuador for her daughter was confiscated by custom agents at the Newark Liberty International Airport.
All Alba Lugardo wanted was her chicken tamales.
She stood sobbing at international customs inspection at Newark Liberty International Airport as agents explained why they seized her vittles. Lugardo didn't care about the big picture; she just wanted the comfort food she brought in her carry-on luggage from Ecuador for her pregnant daughter in Newark.
Custom reports reveal that "every day, the inspectors in Newark intercept on average more than 100 bugs."
"Most people don't understand the implications when we tell them they can't bring the only gift they can afford -- food they made with their own hands -- into the country," said Basil Liakakos, chief agricultural specialist at Newark Airport. "They don't understand we're talking the potential for an economic or health disaster."
Many non-native species are benign or even beneficial, but the bad ones can be ruthless. Federal experts estimate foreign pests and diseases already cost tens of billions of dollars a year in lower crop values, eradication programs and emergency payments to farmers.
Alien species are one of the top threats to biodiversity on the planet, according to the Global Invasive Species Information Network, an international consortium of scientists and government agencies. In the U.S., many biologists agree, non-native species have contributed to the decline of nearly half the plants and animals on the endangered species list.
Every day, inspectors in Newark intercept on average more than 100 bugs, according to customs reports. About once a month, they come across a species never before seen in the U.S. The stowaway found 10 days ago was hiding in a bunch of Israeli thyme, said Thomas Henry, the USDA botanist who examined the insect.