CHICAGO (CBS) — Heroin and opium aren’t the only things that bug federal customs agents working at O’Hare International Airport, who recently stopped the importation of an insect classified as one of the top 100 most feared pests in the world.
Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialists working at O’Hare recently opened a seemingly innocent bag of rice being shipped amidst clothing, pots and pans, and other personal effects from India.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports
Inside they found the tiny Khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium Everts), one of the world’s most tenacious and destructive stored-product pests because of its ability to damage grain, according to a release from CBP.
Hard to kill and able to thrive in grain elevators, warehouses and even home pantries, beetle infestations can result in up to 70 percent damage, making grain and grain products inedible and unmarketable. If digested, the pest may also cause diarrhea and vomiting, the release said.
On Aug. 16, while enforcing a federal quarantine that restricts the importation of rice into the United States from countries with known Khapra beetle infestations, CBP ag specialists in the O’Hare cargo environment located two 10-pound bags of rice and found a cast skin and larvae.
For identification purposes, it was sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Protection and Quarantine entomologists, who positively identified the Khapra beetle.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports, U.S. officials say the threat from abroad is growing.
Steve Artino, assistant director of field operations for U-S Customs border security in Chicago, says this was the third time this year that agents at O’Hare have found a Khapra beetle, and nationwide, 100 have been found this year.
“It’s up substantially – about six in 2005 and 2006, to 15 to 2007, ’08 and ’09,” Artino said.
The previous beetle interceptions at O’Hare included beetles in a personal supply of bulgur wheat earlier this month; a container of tapioca powder with Kharpa contamination in June; and dead beetle larvae found in a container filled with 50 pound sacks of rice and beans from India in January, the release said.
The Khapra beetle originated in South Asia and is now present throughout northern Africa and the Middle East, with a limited presence in Asia, Europe and southern Africa.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.