Homeland Security Abetted an Invasion

October 11th, 2011
in econ_news

beetle-and-larvae-LARGE Econintersect:  While the government focused on terrorists, another invasion took place. Dozens of foreign insects and plant diseases have slipped undetected into the United States in the years after 9/11.  Authorities were so focused on preventing another attack that they overlooked a pest explosion that threatened the quality of the nation's food supply.  Billions of dollars in crop damage and additional control and eradication efforts have resulted, according to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal (New York State).  Click on photo for larger image with readable legend.

Follow up:

Hundreds of scientists that had been responsible for detecting and eliminating invasive species at the border were reassigned to stop terrorists as Homeland Security efforts were built up. From the Poughkeepsie Journal:

An Associated Press analysis of inspection records found that border-protection officials were so engrossed in stopping terrorists that they all but ignored the country's exposure to destructive new insects and infections — a quietly growing menace that has been attacking fruits and vegetables and even prized forests ever since.

"Whether they know it or not, every person in the country is affected by this, whether by the quality or cost of their food, the pesticide residue on food or not being able to enjoy the outdoors because beetles are killing off the trees," said Mark Hoddle, an entomologist specializing in invasive species at the University of California, Riverside.

Homeland Security officials acknowledge making mistakes and say they are now working to step up agricultural inspections at border checkpoints, airports and seaports.

While not as dire as terrorism, the threat is considerable and hard to contain.

Many invasive species are carried into the U.S. by people who are either unaware of the laws or are purposely trying to skirt quarantine regulations. The hardest to stop are fruits, vegetables and spices carried by international travelers or shipped by mail. If tainted with insects or infections, they could carry contagions capable of devastating crops.

The Poughkeepsie Journal article lists seven major threats that have entered the country since 9/11 and offer risks not only to the cost and availability of some food crops but also the human and wildlife health as control efforts are implemented with various insecticides.  California and Florida crops are among the most frequently mentioned.  Citrus groves and vineyards are among the most susceptible targets of the invasive pests and diseases.

Source:  Poughkeepsie Journal

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