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Animal skeletons, high-priced vehicle seized at port

AgriculturePort of BaltimoreImportsChinaEnvironmental Politics

Call them port discoveries.

Federal agents intercepted dozens of animal skeletons at the port of Baltimore in recent weeks because they "pose a potential threat to the United States poultry industry," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Separately, a rugged four-wheel-drive truck seized in April was destroyed Tuesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Chicken skeletons, found in display cases that had been imported from China, were found along with microscopes, test tubes, thermometers and other animal skeletons — of fish, rats, snakes and bats — and appeared to be educational materials, officials said.

Officials issued an emergency restriction on the material, citing the threat of avian flu, which persists in China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, customs officials said. The concern is that the virus could somehow spread from the skeletons to domestic chickens. The virus is deadly to birds and spreads easily among them, and sporadically infects humans, sometimes causing death.

Their unnamed importer in Manassas, Va., must now export them or they'll be destroyed, customs officials said.

The importer of a Land Rover Defender found at the port in April didn't get such an option. The vehicle, which had its identification number purposely altered because its import was illegal, was destroyed Tuesday with a giant metal claw at an undisclosed Maryland salvage yard.

That Land Rover model does not comply with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency safety and emissions regulations, such as standards requiring air bags.

Import documents stated the seized Defender was 25 years of age or older, which would have made it legal to import, but it was not that old.

The four-wheel-drive truck — estimated to be worth $25,000 overseas but as much as $150,000 in the United States — was considered "illegal and unsafe," officials said. Dozens of similar Defender vehicles have been seized in recent months at ports around the country, much to the chagrin of Land Rover aficionados.

Customs agents routinely inspect cargo brought into the port of Baltimore, which handles millions of tons of cargo each year.

Agents look for items that may break with regulations across a spectrum of U.S. agencies and regulatory bodies.

The Land Rover shipments are identified by the agency's Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center, whose mission is to "ensure that unsafe vehicles from overseas markets do not reach our roadways," said Allen Gina, Customs' assistant commissioner for international trade.

The skeletons were discovered during an inspection of the imported lab equipment and are just the latest agriculture-related discoveries in Baltimore.

In late July, Customs agents stopped a 55,000-pound shipment of cumin entering the port from India after finding dead Khapra beetles. The destructive beetles consume grains and cereals and are difficult to eradicate.

Customs also confirmed last month that its agents discovered a type of mealybug in an exotic fruit flown into Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in December. The mealybug, found inside a cherimoya fruit brought by someone traveling from India, could have posed a "significant agriculture threat" as it feeds on the juices of greenhouse plants, house plants and subtropical trees. It and other cherimoya fruits found on the passenger were seized and burned.

"Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists take very serious their mission of front-line defenders of our nation's agricultural industries," said Susan Thomas, acting Customs and Border Protection director at the Baltimore port, in a statement.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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