More than 100 pounds of illegal cow skins and dried beef — which can carry diseases — were found in luggage at a Virginia airport this month, federal officials said.
The animal products were found in the bags of two travelers, who arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport on a flight from Ethiopia on Sept. 7, when they were “referred to secondary baggage examinations,” according to a Monday news release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
One of the passengers, who was traveling from Nigeria, originally said she didn’t have any agriculture products with her, CBP said. But she later “amended her declaration to include cow skins.”
Agriculture specialists then examined her luggage and found 66 pounds of cow skins along with about 2 pounds of wood bark, according to CBP. They also found “live insect larva” when inspecting the bark.
The second passenger, who was traveling from Cameroon, told authorities he was only carrying with him dried eru, which is a “green leafy African vegetable,” CBP said.
But an X-ray alerted authorities to “anomalies” in his bag, and agricultural specialists discovered 44 pounds of dried beef, more than 4 pounds of wood bark, “numerous insects and potential plant disease” and soursop leaves, which are believed to “have healing properties in Africa,” CBP said.
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), cow skins and dried beef potentially carry highly contagious or deadly animal diseases, such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Foot and Mouth Disease, that could threaten our nation’s cattle and livestock industries,” CBP said. “That is why it remains prohibited to import unpermitted meat products from continents that have experienced animal disease.”
Authorities at the airport took the illegal products and “released both travelers, who were destined to addresses in Maryland,” CBP said. They incinerated the animal products and sent the insect specimens and diseased plant to an entomologist and a pathologist to be identified.
CBP said that, during a “typical day” last year, agricultural specialists across the United States “seized 3,091 prohibited plant, meat, animal byproducts, and soil, and intercepted 250 insect pests at U.S. ports of entry.”
“Threats to our nation’s agricultural industries can take many forms,” CBP said. “From the deliberate act of agro-terrorism, to the hitchhiking of invasive insect species, to the unintended act posed by travelers who pack prohibited cultural food products in their baggage, the introduction of invasive insects, or plant and animal diseases can severely impact our nation’s economic security.”