A Better Way to Stop Pests at the Border

By Kat Kerlin

Plants imported into the United States sometimes hold more than leaves and stems. They also can transport hidden, non-native pests and pathogens that can cause substantial ecological and economic damage if they establish in the environment.

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

In the United States, that pathway is growing. Over the past four decades, the dollar value of imported plants has grown at 68 percent per decade. One means of reducing their entry is to inspect live plant imports at the U.S. border.

A study led by UC Davis suggests using a “risk-based policy,” which prioritizes inspecting producers with the worst track records for carrying infested shipments.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, describes a strategy that would always inspect the riskiest half of imports while inspecting shipments from less risky producers less frequently. This approach would direct four out of five inspections toward these higher risk imports.

Such a tactic, the study estimates, could cut the number of infested shipments entering the U.S. by 20 percent.

“While interceptions at the border play a small direct role in diverting infested shipments, most gains come from how the new structure incentivizes exporters to clean up their shipments before they reach the U.S. border,” said lead author Michael Springborn, associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy.

Additional authors on the paper include Amanda Lindsay in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Rebecca Epanchin-Niell of the organization Resources for the Future.

Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin

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