State Treasurer Tim Cahill is very upset that U.S. Customs agents harassed his family when they flew home from Italy recently because one of his daughters was found carrying peaches (Globe story here; Herald story here). “As a citizen who cares about security, I think that the time needs to be spent better and maybe on less serious issues than peaches,” Cahill is quoted as saying.
Both papers report having made unsuccessful attempts to get government officials to comment (the Globe’s Andrea Estes appears to have tried quite a bit harder than the Herald’s Dave Wedge), and then leave it at that. But about three seconds of Googling would have revealed what their intuition should have told them in the first place — that fruit can carry non-native insects and other nasties that could wreak havoc if they get loose in the United States.
Here’s part of a press release on a food-sniffing dog that works for the Houston Airport system:
During their training, these canines are taught to alert their human counterparts when they sniff five primary odors: apple, citrus, mango, pork and beef. Plants and flowers are also at the top of the dogs’ target items list.
These target items are foreign to the United States and may contain certain diseases and insects that are not currently present in the country. The function of CBP [Customs and Border Protection] is to prevent these potentially dangerous items from entering the country and, by the same token, to prevent foreign items from the U.S. entering other countries.
Meats can carry livestock diseases, such as swine fever and mad cow disease that can kill American livestock. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, can carry insects or diseases, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly or citrus canker, which can wipe out hundreds of acres of the U.S.’s agriculture.
Or maybe we could review how Dutch elm disease, spread by bark beetles, came to wipe out the graceful elm trees that used to line the streets of Boston and other American cities. According to this Wikipedia entry (corroborated by the Encyclopedia Britannica):
The disease was first reported in the United States in 1928, with the beetles believed to have arrived in a shipment of logs from the Netherlands destined for the Ohio furniture industry. The disease spread slowly from New England westward and southward, almost completely destroying the famous Elms in the “Elm City” of New Haven, reaching the Detroit area in 1950, the Chicago area by 1960, and Minneapolis by 1970.
Maybe the agents who stopped the Cahills acted unprofessionally and didn’t bother to explain themselves. Maybe they were unnecessarily rude, the default mode for too many government officials with a little bit of power. But certainly they had a legitimate reason to confiscate the peaches. Too bad the papers didn’t make more of an attempt to find out why.
Even better: Steve finds the notice at left on the Customs Web site. It begins: “We regret that it is necessary to take agricultural items from your baggage. They cannot be brought into the United States because they may carry animal and plant pests and diseases. Restricted items include meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, soil, and products made from animal or plant materials.”