Global travelers warned not to bring back pests and diseases
By Oregon Depart of Agriculture,
Be aware of where you are traveling and beware what you might bring back to Oregon. That’s the bottom line message from agriculture officials to international travelers who may provide a conveyance for pests and diseases that could threaten the state’s agriculture and environment.”The world has gotten smaller and you can be halfway around the globe in a day,” says Dan Hilburn, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Plant Division and member of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. “It’s no problem for spores, seeds, and even insects to survive the travel. There are many examples of people bringing back with them a pest or a disease to the US that resulted in millions of dollars in crop losses or control costs.”
The latest concern is an animal disease. Foot and mouth disease (FMD) has emerged in South Korea, one of Oregon’s top agricultural trading partners.
It has also been reported in Vietnam. FMD is a severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle and swine that produces fever and blisters. It can also affect sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. FMD is not a food safety problem, but an affliction that does impact meat and milk production. It is not a human health issue but people can spread the disease. While not seen in the US since 1929, foot and mouth disease is just an ocean away.
“For us right now, it’s a matter of getting people aware,” says ODA’s Don Hansen, state veterinarian. “If you are traveling to these countries, be aware coming back. If you are entertaining guests from these countries, be aware of their presence.”
Specifically, Oregonians who might be traveling to Korea or Vietnam should not set foot in livestock operations that may be in the middle of the outbreak. Upon return, travelers should observe stringent biosecurity measures that include washing clothes worn overseas and avoiding Oregon farms for up to 10 days.
“FMD is not contagious to humans, but they can transmit the disease from having contaminated hands, clothes, or just being in an intensely infected area such as a pig barn and inhaling the virus, then exhaling that virus over here for three or four days upon returning,” says Hansen. “Anybody traveling to these specific Pacific Rim countries needs to pay attention, not just people who are involved with agriculture.”
At last report, more than a million animals affected by foot and mouth disease had been destroyed in Korea. More than 200,000 people are working to get the outbreak under control. Private veterinarians who are deputized by ODA are on alert in case they see suspicious animal diseases. ODA has also issued a warning to cattle producers in Oregon. Officials in the State of Washington have done the same and used extra caution over the holidays because of the return of military personnel from South Korea.
Hansen says increased awareness is key because of a change in emphasis by US border officials.
“The emphasis now is on quelling potential terrorist activities,” says Hansen. “Less attention is being paid on people who are traveling to and from countries with foot and mouth disease and making sure they haven’t been on farms or made contact with the disease.”
ODA’s Hilburn, who deals with plant pests and diseases, agrees there has been a change of focus even though he is not critical of the job being done.
“Only a small percentage of material at the border ever gets looked at,” he says. “Since 9/11, border inspectors have re-directed their efforts on thugs, drugs, not so much bugs. They do the best they can and still find a lot of agricultural products that shouldn’t be allowed in, but we wonder how much they aren’t finding.”
It is incumbent on travelers themselves to take measures that keep these problem pests and diseases from getting into Oregon in the first place, even though ODA has established a strong trapping and detection program.
“I’m very proud of Oregon’s early detection, rapid response system,” says Hilburn. “However, it does not cover all the possible pests and diseases that are out there. We can’t rely on that system alone to protect us. We need people to be aware of their role in bringing back problems from other countries.”
Global travel is not just a problem with animal diseases such as FMD. People often want to bring back fruits and vegetables that can harbor plant diseases and insects. Anything with soil on it can spell trouble.
“We urge people not to bring back fruits and vegetables when they travel, or plants and plant material in soil,” says Hilburn. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, and bringing it back in your luggage is the wrong way. Muddy boots are a definite no-no, especially if they were worn in an orchard or farm.”
In addition to potentially causing harm to agriculture and the environment, bringing back these products is against the law. A long list of prohibited and restricted items is maintained by customs and border control. That list includes fruits and vegetables, plants and seeds, and soil.
Travelers are able to apply to the US Department of Agriculture for a permit to import certain regulated plants and plant products for consumption or propagation.
Absent of getting the permit, the best advice is to just say no to the idea of bringing back something that could cause a great deal of harm. An infestation of Oriental Fruit Fly in California this past summer is believed to have been caused as the result of a returning traveler smuggling fruit into the state.
“Even though I’m tempted, I don’t bring back fruits, vegetables, or plants,” says Hilburn. “I know my short pleasure in doing so is in no way worth the risk of bringing in a new pest or disease. You peel some exotic fruit and throw the waste into the compost heap, and that’s all it might take to cause a huge problem.”
Whether the concern is an animal disease or one affecting plants, the message is the same to travelers- play it safe and be smart upon return.
For more information, contact Dan Hilburn at (503) 986-4636 or Dr. Don Hansen at (503) 986-4680.
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