Searching for pests with USDA

By: Brock LaChapelle, ASU Sustainable Food Systems graduate student. 

This past fall, the ASU Sustainable Food Systems cohort visited the APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine facility in Yuma, Arizona.  APHIS is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture that oversees and initiates response pertaining to animal health, animal welfare and plant health. Additionally, they ensure that U.S. agricultural and food products meet the importing countries' criteria for entering their territories. APHIS is divided into various operations including Animal Care, Biotechnology Regulatory Services, International Services, Plant Protection and Quarantine, Veterinary Services, and Wildlife Services.

The Plant Protection and Quarantine office's responsibilities are identifying, targeting, and coordinating long term programs for specific agricultural pests and noxious weeds. Melanie Galvan is a PPQ Officer in Yuma and educated the ASU cohort on the broad aspects of her office. She described to us her daily inspections and collaborations with various agencies to identify and supply information about potential risks. On the front line of this system, Melanie inspects exported plants and agricultural products at distribution centers in Arizona.

After departing the APHIS office, our group drove to a local distribution center exporting U.S. produce. Outside the distribution center Melanie informed our cohort on the process PPQ Officers use to inspect agricultural products. Entering the refrigerated facility, the group was required to wear long sleeve shirts, gloves, and hairnets. These precautions limit the possible contaminants to the potentially exported products.

Once inside the facility, Officer Galvan displayed her procedure for inspecting produce. She starts by gathering a handful of the product off the top of a crate and then taps the product on a piece of white paper. Using a flashlight, she investigates for pests or irregularities. Once processed, Melanie either certifies the shipment or corresponds with the proper specialist within APHIS for further examination. If a pest is detected, the APHIS office will follow its procedures on that specific pest and the regulations for the country where the product is being exported.

After Melanie’s tutorial, the group was encouraged to inspect crates of produce. While tapping and inspecting broccoli, one of our cohort members came across an insect (circled red in the photo). Melanie was able to supply a real-life example of PPQ's procedures for discovering a pest in produce. She retrieved the specimen in a glass vial for inspection by an APHIS entomologist. Once the entomologist positively identifies the insect, it will be compared to the U.S. agricultural pest list and to the importing country’s list of acceptable pests. This process decides whether the shipment is certified to be exported or quarantined. Following this plan of action helps to ensure the safety and profitability of American agriculture.

This blog is part of a series from the December 2022 Arizona immersive component of the MS in Sustainable Food Systems Program. Students toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.