A partnership between local and federal agencies aims to get the public to declare agricultural products when traveling in an effort to protect the local enviroment and its natural resources.
The "Don’t Pack a Pest" campaign is now in its fourth year and has already been launched on other islands – such as Jamaica and Puerto Rico – and in Florida, reaching "millions" of travelers according to officials speaking at a press conference Tuesday on St. Thomas.
Along with the kickoff on St. Thomas, the outreach program will be launched Wednesday on St. Croix.
The program hopes to raise public awareness about the potential dangers posed by travelers bringing pests or diseases into the territory. Speaking during Tuesday’s press conference, Florida’s Plant Industry Division Director Richard Gaskalla said that his state is currently considered a high risk area and is locked in a battle with a citrus pest and the introduction of a new land snail affecting agriculture.
According to information provided at the press conference, undeclared items "pose a serious threat" because they can potentially introduce pests that become established within a community and cause "millions of dollars in damage."
Included in the campaign is a 60-second video public service announcement that Gaskella said is playing at the nation’s 20 busiest airports.
The video features Linus, a detector dog working at Atlanta International Airport, that is trained to sniff out potential agricultural threats. Through these efforts and through regular agricultural inspections conducted at the airports, "thousands of pounds of agricultural produce are confiscated at ports of entry from passengers on a daily basis," according to speakers.
While some passengers know what they are bringing in, many times, most are not aware that certain items in their carry-on luggage or checked suitcases are not allowed, speakers added.
The program is a partnership between U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Along with the video, signs placed at the air and cruise ship ports will also help to raise awareness, using the campaign’s motto: "When you travel, declare agricultural items – Don’t Pack a Pest."
For more information, visit www.dontpackapest.com.