This is How We Safeguard America’s Crops and Forests
By Greg Rosenthal
There’s a good reason why “Protection” is the middle name of USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program. PPQ is a vigilant protector that stands between destructive invasive pests and the health of our country’s farms, ranches, nurseries, and forests. Safeguarding these resources is PPQ’s core objective, one that the U.S. Congress has directed us to fulfill through the Plant Protection Act. We have an enormous responsibility—and we take it very seriously.
To protect America’s agriculture and ecosystems, PPQ has established a system of safeguards that begins abroad, continues through U.S. ports of entry, and extends across the nation. It’s called the Safeguarding Continuum.
We begin our fight against pests and diseases before they ever have a chance to come here. Look at the slides to see how we do it:
PPQ’s preclearance programspans 25 countries. Through this program, we inspected and pre-cleared 2.5 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and more than 1.15 billion plants and bulbs in fiscal year (FY) 2019.
PPQ’s offshore programs certify foreign facilities that produce or treat high-demand, large-volume, U.S.-bound commodities like fruit and vegetables, nursery plants, plant cuttings, and niger seed (a common bird seed ingredient).
Our certifications verify that these facilities and their operations meet our standards and regulatory requirements, which minimize a commodity’s plant pest risk before it ships.
The Offshore Vessel Inspection Program created a new line of defense—on the other side of the Pacific Ocean—against the leaf-devouring Asian gypsy moth (AGM). Through this program, PPQ and Canada work with the countries at AGM’s source—China, Japan, Korea, and Russia.
In 2018, Far Asia-origin vessels complying with the certification requirements hit an all-time high, exceeding 92 percent. We expect the 2019 data to be similar.
Without proper cleaning, military equipment deployed overseas could return stateside infested with invasive pests. That’s why we trained nearly 755 U.S. Dept. of Defense personnel in our agricultural regulations and inspected and recertified 108 military inspection programs in FY 2019.
These programs inspected 137,816 military passengers, 405,598 shipments of personal goods (including household goods and vehicles), and 513,157 pieces of cargo before they returned stateside.
By speeding the safe entry of these items into the United States, this work also strengthened military readiness.
PPQ works with 182 other countries through the International Plant Protection Convention to develop science-based international standards. They help ensure that billions of dollars in agricultural products flow around the world without spreading invasive pests.
Through the North American Plant Protection Organization, we collaborate with Canada and Mexico to create regional standards to keep invasive plant pests out of North America.
We collaborate similarly with our Caribbean neighbors through our Greater Caribbean Safeguarding Initiative.
U.S. ports of entry are our last chance to keep pests and diseases out of our country. And PPQ mounts a powerful defense against them. The slideshow tells the story:
It starts with our assessment of risk for plant pests and diseases and the ways they can travel to our country.
These risk assessments inform our import regulations, which define the plant health requirements—like inspections and treatments—that minimize the risk that a commodity will introduce an invasive pest or disease.
To enforce our regulations, we work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials as they conduct U.S. port-of-entry inspections.
They inspect international cargo, passenger baggage, mail, and express packages at U.S. ports of entry. PPQ trains those CBP inspectors and the dogs they use to detect prohibited agricultural products.
We operate 16 Plant Inspection Stations that inspect most live plants, plant cuttings, and seeds arriving in the United States. Each station’s staff ensures the materials are free of foreign plant pests and diseases of concern and meet our plant health import standards.
When CBP or PPQ inspectors intercept a pest, our identifiers must quickly figure out what it is and whether it poses a risk to our crops or forests. They order emergency actions—such as treatments, re-export, or destruction—to keep quarantine pests out of the country.
PPQ Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance officers actively prevent the smuggling of agricultural goods and trace down plant and animal products that may have entered the country illegally.
On the domestic side, our Predeparture Program personnel inspect passenger baggage and cargo in Hawaii and Puerto Rico that are bound for the U.S. mainland.
Both tropical destinations are part of the United States, but they are home to many pests and diseases that aren’t on the U.S. mainland. The Predeparture Program keeps those threats out.
PPQ also protects U.S. animal health with our Regulated Garbage Program. It regulates the safe containment and disposal of untreated foreign garbage. Devastating foreign animal diseases like foot and mouth disease and African swine fever can enter a country in garbage.
The program regulates food waste, unconsumed meals, utensils, and similar items arriving via air or sea into the United States from foreign regions, excluding Canada.
Sometimes pests and diseases do enter the United States. And so the Safeguarding Continuum stretches out across the Nation. Here’s how:
We work with the States and other partners to conduct annual pest surveys nationwide. Our goal: Detect pests and diseases early and respond rapidly.
That prevents large-scale agricultural, environmental, and economic losses—and discourages other countries from closing their markets to our products because they don’t want our pests.
When pests become established, PPQ, the States, and our other partners strike back when warranted with domestic programs to control, suppress—and, if feasible—eradicate them.
We’ve seen many eradication successes, most recently plum pox virus from the United States. This achievement protected 1.3 million acres of commercial stone fruit orchards, whose crops are worth $6.3 billion annually with a $5.4 billion export value.
Eradicated: the pink bollworm from all commercial cotton-producing areas of the continental United States. That pest used to cost the U.S. industry $32 million annually in control costs and yield losses.
Eradicated: the European grapevine moth in California, which threatened the State’s $4 billion annual grape crop. The pest feeds on the flower or fruit of host plants, typically grapes. It can make mature grapes vulnerable to the plant-killing bunch rot fungal disease.
Eradicated: numerous exotic fruit fly outbreaksin California, Florida, and Texas. These pests are among the most destructive and feared pests of fruits and vegetables around the world. Their larvae feed on hundreds of agriculturally valuable crops.
Eradicated: the Asian longhorned beetle from Illinois, New Jersey, Boston, New York City, and two locations in Ohio. This invasive beetle threatens America's hardwood trees. It jeopardizes recreation and forest resources worth billions of dollars.
Eradicated: Karnal bunt from portions of four States. It exists in just part of Arizona today. This fungal disease of wheat and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) harms grain quality but seldom reduces crop yields. However, it concerns some wheat-importing nations.
In addition, we continue to make progress toward eradicating the boll weevil from its last U.S. foothold in southern Texas. Since the 1890s, when it moved into the United States from Mexico, our cotton industry has lost more than $23 billion to the pest.
PPQ also conducts outreach across the Nation to inform the public about the invasive species threat and how to prevent their spread. We work closely with our Agency’s Legislative and Public Affairs staff, which developed award-winning public awareness campaigns like Hungry Pests and the Asian Longhorned Beetle.
A Relentless Drive for Improvement
As global trade continues to expand, the pressure of invasive pest and disease introductions will also increase. To keep ahead of the threat, PPQ continually applies the latest science and technology to develop the most effective survey methods, diagnostic support, treatment technologies, risk evaluations, and strategic program alternatives. We also analyze pest interception data to identify the imports with the highest risk. Then we can address the problem at its source.
All of these efforts strengthen our Safeguarding Continuum. That allows us to more effectively protect the bounty and beauty of America’s agricultural and natural resources. And the livelihoods of America’s farmers, ranchers, nursery growers, and foresters that depend on those resources.
grapevine moth: M.L. Cooper, UCCE-Napa
fruit fly: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
fruit fly: Jack Dykinga, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
fruit fly: Stephanie Gayle, USDA-ARS
pox virus-infected fruit: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, Bugwood.org
pox virus-infected leaves: Biologische Bundesanstalt für Land- und Forstwirtschaft , Biologische Bundesanstalt für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Bugwood.org
dieback from Asian longhorned beetle infestation: Dennis Haugen, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
wheat grains (Karnal bunt): Ruben Durán, Washington State University, Bugwood.org
ear of wheat (Karnal bunt): Ruben Durán, Washington State University, Bugwood.org
weevil adult: F. Benci, Boll Weevil Research Laboratory, Bugwood.org
weevil larva: Alton N. Sparks, Jr., University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
The United Nations declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). This worldwide campaign is promoting the value of our precious plant resources and the need to safeguard them against invasive pests. To celebrate IYPH, each month Plant Protection Today will highlight how PPQ safeguards America’s agricultural and natural resources against invasive pests, and facilitates the safe trade of agricultural products. Read our article on IYPH to learn more—and how you can join this once-in-a-lifetime event!