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Travellers, who take uncertified plants, animals or food into the country, are placing agriculture and public health at risk, as these items could contain harmful pests and diseases.

This is the word from Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Marc Panton, as he addressed the Kingston launch of the ‘Don’t Pack a Pest’ public awareness programme today (October 18), at the Norman Manley International Airport.

The programme is a collaborative effort between Jamaica and the United States, through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry, and the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Inspection Health Service (USDA-APHIS).

It is intended to sensitise the travelling public about the dangers of knowingly or unknowingly introducing pests and diseases into Jamaica, United States and the Caribbean region.

Under the initiative, persons are being urged to avoid taking uncertified plants, fruits, food and other such items with them, when travelling. The initiative will help travellers to know ahead of time what they can and cannot take in their luggage, so as to avoid possible fines as well as having the items confiscated.

Dr. Panton said the programme is vital to protecting agricultural health, pointing out that the country has had challenges throughout the years in terms of a number of diseases “that have perhaps come in through (the air and sea ports)”.  

“For example, right now, we suffer from the pink mealybug and we have spent tremendous money as a Ministry to set up facilities and monitoring and surveillance mechanisms to ensure that we keep this particular disease under control,” he said.

He said the Ministry, through these efforts, is also trying to keep out of the country, pests such as the giant African snail and the Mediterranean fruit fly, which are “potentially very devastating insects that can have very negative effects, certainly on our agriculture”.

“We don’t just do it for the purpose of agriculture; we do it for the protection of human population…If you were to bring in meat or perhaps feed illegally and you were to bring (in diseases such as the mad cow disease) and it were to transfer to humans… you are putting the human population at risk,” he said.

State Minister for Tourism and Entertainment, Hon. Damion Crawford, welcomed the initiative, noting that his Ministry is pleased to see the Agriculture Ministry partner with the US on a preventative measure that will also redound to the benefit of the tourism sector.

According to a release from the Agriculture Ministry, the focus of the agricultural protection programme in Florida and Jamaica is appropriate as both countries are high risk areas that are vulnerable to new pest introductions through trade and tourism.

It states that thousands of pounds of uncertified or prohibited agricultural produce are confiscated at ports of entry from passengers on a daily basis. These uncertified items pose a serious threat to the country’s food and fiber resources as exotic invasive pests can enter through this pathway and become established.

Bringing uncertified items into the country can result in loss of export markets due to quarantines and can negatively impact the natural environment. With increased travel, there is an urgent need to expand outreach programmes throughout the region to educate the traveling public about what they should know and what they can do to help protect the agricultural and natural resources from exotic pests, the document further reads.

The programme will also include the airing of a 60-second video and the placement of signs at strategic areas in the country’s major airports and cruise ship ports, along with distribution of other public education materials to the travelling public. A sign was also unveiled at the airport during the ceremony.

The ‘Don’t Pack a Pest’ programme was also launched on Wednesday October 17, 2012 at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and signs unveiled at the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier in Trelawny.