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Louisville seeing sharp increase in dangerous international shipments

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 9:54 PM EDT
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The agency finds prohibited items daily.
The agency finds prohibited items daily.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The port of Louisville has become the top U.S. destination when it comes to international smugglers trying to sneak potentially dangerous agricultural products into the country.

A big reason for that, according to Customs and Border Protection officers, is because the city is a shipping hub.

As UPS planes touch down at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, those with the CPB inspect some of the international cargo passing through town.

They hope to catch banned, mislabeled or hidden plant, insect, and animal products that could be harmful to the country.

“People use them as a vegetable, but when they get loose in waterways it just clogs them up,” Cory Everton, a Supervisory Agriculture Specialist, said, regarding one type of problematic plant. “It causes real problems.”

Recently, potentially dangerous insect eggs were concealed in a stuffed animal and silkworm cocoons were declared as fabric samples creating a nightmarish delivery.

“They’re about that big and they squirm,” Everton said. “There were several hundred pounds of them.”

Duck tongues from China were also disguised as plastic products.

“We think somebody is selling that stuff,” he added. “Nobody is sitting down with a big fork and just shoveling down five kilos of duck tongues.”

In Louisville, compared to the first half of the last fiscal year, the interception of prohibited products has gone up by 186 percent so far this fiscal year.

“Every day, all day,” Everton said, discussing the frequency. “Pounds and pounds and pounds. Every day, all day.”

Everton said that might be due to increased e-commerce and interest in gardening during the pandemic.

If something dangerous gets through, it has the potential to cause meat and produce shortages and spike prices.

" If we had a foot and mouth disease outbreak in this country, it would be very detrimental to the everyday life of ordinary Americans,” he said.

Agents working around the clock said it’s happened before.

“Chestnut blight came in from Europe and whipped them all out,” Everton said. “They’re gone, destroyed an entire ecosystem. Americans don’t eat chestnuts that are roasted on an open fire anymore because they are extinct.”

That happened centuries ago, but the same threats persist today.

“They’re all very proud that they are protecting the United States by using their talents,” Everton said, describing those he works with.

Specialists said they do a good job at targeting suspicious shipments, but the reality is that only about one percent of all cargo can be inspected.

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