Customs hit with humongous inspection task before Valentine’s Day (video)

BY TRACY MATHESON / FEBRUARY 12, 2018 /

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The approach of Valentine’s Day has kept officials at Customs and Border Protection busy, with the agency expecting to process and inspect more than 1 billion imported stems of flowers prior to Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security is best known for their efforts to stop illegal immigration and the halt the importation of narcotics, but its Miami office facilitates most of the massive number of floral importation inspections that occur between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 annually, the Washington Examiner reported.

According to DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, “People don’t think of agriculture when they think of Customs and Border Protection — however, CBP agriculture specialists work diligently to protect our country from invasive species that have the potential to damage ecosystems and our economy.”

CBP officers at the Miami International Airport Agriculture Air Cargo Branch — which is tasked with inspecting 91 percent of all imported fresh-cut flowers — processed more than 954 million stems of flowers in 2017 and intercepted more than 1,000 plant pests. Approximately $138 billion annually in economic and environmental losses are attributable to exotic pests and foreign animal diseases.

“When those flowers make it to your home, we want it to be safe, not only for you but the environment and our country,” said Duke, who visited Florida last week to observe the inspection of the imported fresh-cut flowers. “I was proud to spend the day in Miami to see firsthand the important work they are doing to ensure even the tiniest of pests don’t enter our country.”

Other CBP offices responsible for fresh-cut flower inspections include Los Angeles, which, in 2017, processed the second-highest amount of stems at 40 million; followed by Otay Mesa, Calif., at 25 million; and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, which inspected 19 million stems of flowers.

During the 2017 Valentines’s Day season, a total of 1.063 billion stems of flowers were imported.

Columbia is the largest exporter of fresh-cut flowers to the United States, shipping 718 million stems during the six weeks leading up Valentine’s Day in 2017. Ecuador followed with 243 million, with Mexico in third place with 36 million.