Florida has eradicated 160,000 giant African land snails, a non- native and devastating plant pest likely introduced through passenger luggage. The snail lives nine years and eats through 500 different varieties of Florida’s food and non-food plants, says Denise Feiber, public information director of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry. The snail impacts the state’s food, environment and finances, all because someone probably packed a pest in luggage.
Florida’s Don’t Pack a Pest program reminds international travelers to alert inspectors of any packed fruits, vegetables, meats and even handicraft items when entering a Florida or U.S. port of entry.
“It’s a very simple message: When you travel, declare agricultural items and don’t pack a pest,” says Feiber, also the program’s manager. “Passenger baggage is one of the highest pathways of pest and disease introduction into Florida and the U.S.”
On average, at least one new pest or disease per month arrives to Florida, in many cases through unsuspecting travelers. As a result, the department earned grant money in 2010 to develop the Don’t Pack a Pest program, which uses educational outreach to foster more pleasant inspection experiences for travelers.
Additionally, the program adds another layer of invasive pest and disease protection for the state’s $120 billion agriculture industry and the 2 million-plus jobs it supports.
The program’s 60-second video features Linus, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture detective dog, and is now installed in 20 of the nation’s busiest airports. Those airports represent the U.S. entry point for 85 percent of international travelers.
As of early 2016, the program included 681 educational signs in 50 ports of entry in Florida and the Caribbean alone.