EPPO Global Database

EPPO Reporting Service no. 07 - 1981 Num. article: 1981/01

Position on international baggage inspection for agricultural purposes


In order to alleviate passenger congestion at international airports, seaports and frontier crossings, some countries have relaxed their baggage inspection procedures by providing one exit for passengers carrying goods requiring inspection and one for those not carrying such goods - the so-called "Red Door/Green Door" procedure. The implications of applying this type of “honour system” to North America (Canada, Mexico and the United States) has been examined by the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) and a position paper prepared by its Executive Committee.
The Plant Quarantine Section of the FAO Plant Production and Protection Division holds the view that no country can achieve a healthy agriculture without a strong quarantine policy and an adequate number of well-trained agricultural inspectors. Accordingly, we fully endorse NAPPO's position and present it here for the guidance of other regional quarantine bodies in the hope that they will take steps leading to the adoption of similar measures.

NAPPO policy statement on the Red Door/Green Door philosophy

NAPPO membership consists of plant quarantine and plant protection officials of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The common purpose of the organization is the strengthening of intergovernmental cooperation in plant quarantine and plant protection in North America in order to prevent the introduction and spread of plant pests and noxious weeds and to foster the preservation of the plant resources of North America. The agriculture departments of each of the countries are mandated by their respective governments with the responsibility to prevent the introduction or dissemination of plant and animal pests. One of the most likely methods of entry of exotic plant or animal pests is by way of passengers and their baggage arriving from other countries.

Expediting the clearance process of international travelers without weakening law enforcement is indeed a challenge, one that requires considerable study and close scrutiny. Attempting to minimize passenger delays while effectively enforcing Federal laws requires constant assessment of policies and procedures on the part of each inspection agency involved in passenger baggage clearance. NAPPO is firmly committed to passenger facilitation and recognizes the need for inter-agency and international cooperation, particularly in light of the ever-increasing number of intercontinental travelers. However, any lessening of the degree of baggage inspection, or the incorporation of new systems or methods without first evaluating their efficacy and validity, could result in an introduction of a plant or animal pest that can neither be eradicated nor contained and could cost North American consumers thousands of millions of dollars.

Inspection for agricultural purposes at international ports of entry to Canada, Mexico and the United States is the primary line of defense against the entry of exotic plant and animal pests. If such a pest were introduced to any one of these three countries, food and fibre (including those of animal origin) production in all of them could be threatened owing to the relative ease of natural spread across common borders. Even one exotic animal disease outbreak of a serious nature could cost thousands of millions of dollars annually in production costs, eradication efforts, loss of export markets, or adjustments necessary to live with the introduced disease. Significant plant pest outbreaks could jeopardize the fruit, vegetable and forest industries of the three countries.

North America is very fortunate to be free of hundreds of potentially dangerous exotic plant and animal pests. One of the principal ways pests can enter North America is in travelers’ baggage. Between 80 and 90 percent of all contraband that can transport unwanted pests confiscated annually in Canada, Mexico and the United States combined is from travelers’ baggage. Air passenger baggage represents an extremely high risk as an avenue for the introduction of pests or diseases. Hand-carried baggage has been shown to contain over 70 percent of the contraband found.

Animal and plant products carried by air travelers are considered to be dangerous since they are likely to be infected with plant or animal pests. These materials include plants, and/or home-processed sausage, salami, or other meat products. These are more likely to carry pests than are commercially grown, prepared, or processed products that enter under strict permit and inspection controls.

NAPPO collectively, and its member countries individually, are anxious to cooperate with other concerned groups to develop clearance procedures that will accomplish the objectives of all regulatory agencies and that will enhance the entry of air travelers. We want to emphasize, however, that all regulatory agencies should be involved. The criteria cannot depend entirely on expediting passengers, collecting duty or intercepting drugs. While a form of one-stop inspection of air travelers and the so-called Red/Green system may be suitable under conditions existing in some geographical areas, it is not satisfactory in North America, owing to the need for more stringent agricultural, import requirements. Numerous pests of concern to North America are of general distribution in many other countries. There, many such pests have natural parasites and predators that keep their numbers under control.

The combined agricultural production of all the European countries that have instituted the Red/Green system is not even close to the annual net worth of the agricultural production of North America, estimated to be in excess of US $800 thousand million. Furthermore, the Red/Green system is not used in Australia, Japan, or New Zealand, where the concern with pest introduction equals that in North America.

But what of the consequences of a relaxed vigilance? In the United Kingdom, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) of cattle in 1967-68 cost millions of dollars to eradicate — US $80 million alone in indemnity payments. There has not been an outbreak of FMD in North America since 1952. It is estimated that FMD would have a US $12 thousand million impact in the first 15 years if the disease were introduced and allowed to spread throughout North America today. African swine fever (ASF) is another animal disease that could enter North America through pork products carried in passenger baggage. This virus disease spread into two European and three Western Hemisphere countries in 1978/79. There is no treatment known to combat it. The estimated economic impact on North America would be over US $2.25 thousand million in the first 10 years to cover the costs of living with and eradicating the disease. This would be in addition to losses of North American export markets for hogs and hog products.

The most frequently intercepted contraband in passenger baggage is fresh fruits; over 88 different fruits are hosts to exotic fruit flies. A general infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly alone could cost as much as US $450-550 million annually. Another product frequently carried by passengers is soil. This commodity serves as the natural carrier for nematodes and many other pests. Crop losses could be expected to increase from 5 to 10 percent if additional nematodes were introduced.

Passengers’ baggage also serves as a pathway for entry of plant pathogens. Plant diseases, such as sugar-cane downy mildew, do not have a natural pathway for entry into North America unless the host is moved by humans. The expected economic impact if it is introduced is over US $500 million annually.

The government agricultural agencies of each of the NAPPO countries have been given the responsibility by their respective governments of preventing the introduction of new pests. Therefore, before any changes in passenger processing procedures are introduced, it must be determined that NAPPO countries can meet their government mandates.


FAO Plant Protection Bulletin, 29 (1/2): 1-3 (1981)