Customs: Flower inspections increase as Valentine’s Day nears

An annual holiday known for its ability to significantly boost the sales of flowers and chocolate candy has forced the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to increase its flower inspections at its ports around the country.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, millions of flowers are being imported into the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

At various ports of entry, CBP agriculture specialists are looking for plant pests and diseases, to prevent them from entering the country. Pests and diseases could severely harm the U.S. flower industry, other agricultural products, and wreck the economy, the officials said.

“CBP agriculture specialists are on the frontline, protecting U.S. agriculture and natural resources from foreign-origin plant pests and diseases at our nation’s borders,” said Kevin Harriger, executive director of CBP’s agriculture programs and trade liaison office.

Last year, agriculture specialists deterred 3,400 plant pests, on cut-flower imports, from entering the country, from Jan. 1, to Feb. 14 — the Valentine’s Day season for the agency, said officials.

For the agency’s fiscal year 2011, there were 200,000 insects and diseases found, intercepted and logged by agriculture specialists.

Last year, CBP processed 802.5 million cut-flower stems during the season, a 150 percent increase, compared to the 320.8 million stems processed in 2010.

Most of the cut flowers are imported from South America, mainly from Columbia, the origin of 502.1 million stems, or 63 percent of such shipments. Colombia is followed by Ecuador, with 187 million stems, or 23 percent of the shipments.

The cut-flower imports are mainly shipped into the Miami port of entry, where 84 percent of the total imports are processed. Los Angeles is next in line, officials said.

During the 2011 season, the number of cut flowers processed at both ports of entry more than doubled from the 2010 season.