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Devastating Khapra beetle is turning up in food shipments

November 8, 2011 | 12:52 pm

Photo: A dead adult Khapra beetle. Credit: Associated PressInterceptions of two recent food shipments at the L.A.-Long Beach port containing Khapra beetles illustrate the heightened push by U.S. authorities to prevent the aggressive agricultural pest from reestablishing itself in the country.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists found five live larvae, two dead adults and three skins of the beetle on Oct. 21 in shipments to Los Angeles from India and United Arab Emirates.

A day earlier, they found two dead adult beetles while inspecting a shipment of beans arriving from United Arab Emirates, said spokesman Jaime Ruiz.

The Khapra beetle thrives on grain storage facilities, can survive for months without water and resists most pesticides.

"It's a pretty nasty bug," Ruiz said. "If it were to establish itself, it's not only difficult to eradicate it could U.S. exports of grains like wheat and corn because countries could impose restrictions on those exports."

Ruiz noted that an effort to eradicate Khapra beetles in the 1950s and '60s cost the nation millions of dollars. In July, customs officials began enforcing a federal quarantine on international rice imports from countries with known Khapra beetle infestations.

Those countries include Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cyprus, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Ruiz said the importance of the U.S. efforts will only increase as the domestic appetite for rice grows, as it has in recent years.

"The importers are well aware of this quarantine and we are hoping they will be proactive in taking the necessary actions to prevent infested exports from high-risk countries," Ruiz said.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: A dead adult Khapra beetle. Credit: Associated Press

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