UDSA to Americans: Debug Now

Apr 13, 2012, 5:50 PM, Posted by

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

What’s in your lettuce? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to embrace the increasing fondness for fresh produce by helping to avoid and remove pests that threaten crops. "We need the public's help because these hungry pests can have a huge impact on the items we use in everyday life, from the fabric in our clothing, the food on our table, the lumber used to build our home and the flowers in our garden,” says Rebecca A. Blue, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Invasive pests are non-native species that eat U.S. crops, trees and other plants, and cost millions of dollars in losses.

While state and federal experts are working on the problem, Blue says individuals can help stem the problem by doing their part too, starting with learning tips from a new USDA website, HungryPests.com. Tips include:

  • Plant carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.
  • Do not bring or mail fresh fruits, vegetables, or plants into your state or another state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand.
  • Cooperate with any agricultural quarantine restrictions and allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
  • Keep it clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires between fishing, hunting or camping trips. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving from one home to another.
  • Learn the signs. If you see signs of an invasive pest or disease, write down or take a picture of what you see, and then report it online.
  • Speak up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel.

Public service announcements in both English and Spanish will air on television and radio throughout April and at peak times for domestic travel this summer.

According to USDA, individuals can make a difference. The Asian long-horned beetle, detected in Illinois in 1998, was declared eradicated from Illinois in 2008 with the help of local, state and federal partners and Illinois residents. The beetle was also eradicated from Hudson County, N.J.; and Islip, N.Y. And extensive efforts by USDA and its partners in California reduced European grapevine moth populations in 2011 by 99.9 percent, two years after it was detected.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.