Photo of a crop pest: www.nationalplantboard.org
Importers and travellers alike are again being urged to be more cautious when conducting their affairs to prevent the further spread of plant pests in the island.
This advice comes against the backdrop of an increase in the incidence of infested containers and produce at the island’s air and sea ports, as well as during routine inspections.
Giving some insight into the situation, Officer in Charge of Plant Quarantine, Everton Hunte, recently noted that it was still within Barbados’ sovereign right to either hold and destroy or refuse entry to items which were deemed to be detrimental, even if they were accompanied by certificates of compliance.
“Most people seem to think that once they have a certificate it means that the things have to come in – No! If they come to the air or sea port, or if we go out and inspect a container and we find a pest … the pest is more important than the certificate…so we use the law to do what we have to do…,” he underlined.
Noting that they were faced with these situations on a daily basis, Mr. Hunte said so far for the year they had sent back containers, and were currently contemplating doing the same with another one which is now at the port.
“We have had products which came in that had nothing to do with plant quarantine, but sometimes the containers were found to be contaminated and needed to be fumigated. It is the non-traditional things that tend to give us a lot more problems than the traditional agricultural products…,” he pointed out.
To elucidate his point, the plant quarantine head cited one particular incident where a container of tomato ketchup came into the island, and when it was opened it was found to contain maggots and moths as a result of spillage.
After thorough investigations and treatment, he said, all the contents had to be dumped.
Mr. Hunte noted that while Plant Quarantine investigated and supervised such matters, the importers were the ones who bore the costs associated with repatriating containers.
Meanwhile, Agricultural Officer – Plant Pathology, Michael James, said importers needed to be more aware of pest risks within each of the countries from which they were importing, since individual countries posed different risks.
“Tell us what you want to bring in and from where and we will tell you if this will present problems for Barbados,” he stated, while stressing the need for honesty.
“An importer might get permission to bring in apples and somebody might bring in three boxes of apples and include a box of oranges, and bring in a pest, in the process,” he lamented.
Turning his attention to travel, he noted that with increased travel, and by extension persons bringing in produce, there was greater risk of introducing organisms which could be harmful to plants.
“Passengers need to be aware of pest threats to their country and not just be happy travellers,” he said.
“For instance, St. Vincent has Moko Disease in bananas, so bringing bananas from a place that has Moko, and you don’t know, can cause infection,” he warned, adding that the same thing held for persons trying to “sneak in” a nice banana plant.
The plant pathology official also warned travelers against bringing in unpeeled fruit; seeds or bulbs, or visiting fields overseas and then unknowingly bring in infected soil or even eggs into Barbados on their shoes.
“The best precaution is, if you don’t know – don’t bring it! Ask a question and we will guide you. Most of these pests don’t walk. Some can be spread by high winds – but the majority of them come in come either through passengers or cargo,” he noted.