U.S. Customs agents intercepted a 24-ton shipment of Pakistani rice infested by a destructive crop pest this week at the port of Baltimore — just days before a federal quarantine on such imports was scheduled to begin.
The Customs and Border Protection agency reported that its agents found dead Khapra beetles, a species that has been showing up in rice imports with growing frequency, aboard a ship Tuesday. The agency said a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the identification of the insect the following day.
Restrictions on imports of rice from countries where Khapra beetle infestations are known to occur go into effect Saturday. They apply to more than two dozen Asian, African and Mediterranean countries from Bangladesh to Morocco. Commercial shipments of such rice must be certified to be have been treated and inspected to ensure they are beetle-free.
The customs agency said the beetle-infested shipment of 1,230 sacks of rice had been bound for a food distribution center in Fairfax, Va. The rice has since been sent back.
The Khapra beetle is regarded as an especially destructive pest that can harm grains, cereals and stored foods. The agency said it is the only insect species against which it enforces an import ban even when no live specimens are found.
The quarantine was ordered after the agency noticed an increase in its interceptions of the beetle. It said it has made about 100 interceptions of the species this year, compared with about 15 a year in the period from 2007 to 2009.