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New ag-inspector mission proposed for border agents.

BORDER PATROL AGENTS can provide an extra set of eyes to keep potentially devastating agricultural diseases and pests out of the United States, said the head of New Mexico's agriculture department.

The Department of Homeland Security folded agricultural inspectors into Customs and Border Protection at its creation. Since then, there have been shortages of qualified personnel to inspect food shipments, said I. Miley Gonzalez, New Mexico's secretary of agriculture.

CBP officers and agriculture inspectors man legal checkpoints, but there are vast areas where the Border Patrol holds sway that are not being watched, Gonzalez said at a briefing sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Livestock, fruits and vegetables are smuggled through the border illegally, along with illegal aliens and drugs, he said. It only takes one cow with foot and mouth disease, for example, to devastate the beef industry.

In August, CBP reported that one of its inspectors in Blaine, Wash., intercepted an alien insect under the leaf of a mangosteen fruit that was seized from a passenger arriving by ferry from Canada. "Its impact to American agriculture, had it gone undetected, could [have been] devastating," a CBP statement said.

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Whoever is interdicting potentially harmful shipments, Border Patrol agents or Customs officers, they need to be able to spot pests and exotic pathogens.

"They all need to have some basic level of training to be effective," he said.

Jeff Witte, New Mexico's director of agriculture biosecurity, said he has had some contact with Border Patrol agents who were eager to receive more training on how to spot plant and animal diseases. Ideally, agents would be able to spot a harmful pest, take a digital photo of it, and transmit it to an agricultural specialist who could determine whether on not it was a threat, he said.

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Title Annotation:SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs
Comment:New ag-inspector mission proposed for border agents.(SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs)
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:309
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