Foreign insects and disease terrorize US post-9/11

America’s newest terrorist: the fruit fly.

With officials preoccupied with keeping America free of terrorists, authorities neglected to notice an influx of insects and diseases that were brought into the States, reports The Associated Press.

As agents became distracted by deterring terrorist attacks, a shift in job roles within the US government caused for a great number of organisms to be imported into America, which resulted in devastating affects for the nation’s food supply, health and economy. Today the AP reports that the catastrophe that went largely unnoticed has caused billions of dollars in damages.

Among that criminal culprits imported into America were Mediterranean fruit flies, who were responsible for at least 18 infestations in California, reports the AP. Between that pesky bug and a swarm of European grapevine moths that made their way to America, the Golden Coast’s wine industry suffered setbacks do to intense sprayings and quarantines.

The psyllid citrus out of Asia was also imported into America, simply by being snuck over the border from Mexico in the south. As a result, the citrus caused a crisis in California’s massive produce business by harboring a dangerous disease out west and even bringing concern to the orange groves that are a hallmark of Florida’s citrus industry.

As crops from coast-to-coast were sprayed, quarantined, ravaged and destroyed by a plethora of pests and the diseases they harbor, the American agriculture industry faced major setbacks that hit hard on the average consumer. High costs at the grocery stores, as well as lackluster products and major health risks, can all be blamed on the infestations.

The AP writes that much of the crisis could have been controlled had the hundreds of agricultural scientists normally responsible for monitoring the nation’s borders for infestations were not reassigned to anti-terrorism roles within the Homeland Security Department in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In data obtained by the AP in a Freedom of Information Act request, it is revealed that the number of border inspections that could have thwarted the epidemics dropped dramatically immediately following 9/11 as the Homeland Security Department was created. They add that the number of crop-threatening pests have almost quadrupled annually between 1999 and 2010.

“It’s all about early detection, and it wasn’t their priority at the time,” A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 2003 through 2010, tells the AP.

As priority shifted, terror attacks remained low but the damage to the agriculture and thus the economy soared. Pest cases caught at US borders dropped from 81,200 in 20002 to 58,500 in 2006. It wasn’t until the farm industry and congressional lawmakers began to complain that anything was done to help fix those numbers.

Joe Cabey, head of pest identification with a USDA-affiliated agency tells the AP that, “Yeah, maybe a radioactive bomb is more important, but you have to do both things.”

As focus shifted away from fruits and veggies and towards al-Qaeda and bin Laden, the state of Florida alone saw a 27 percent increases in new pests and pathogens just between 2003 and 2007.

Today the government has refocused efforts and has tried to once again combat the pests that have played a massive role in ravaging the industry. But with Hawaii’s wiliwili trees already largely destroyed by an infestation of the erythrina gall wasp — and thus collapsing the state’s production of kitschy leis, is it safe to say that the terrorists — very tiny ones — have won?

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