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Protecting Agriculture on the Internet – One Click, One Post, One Sale at a Time

Posted by Cory Marker, Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance Officer, Internet Team in Animals Technology
Apr 24, 2018
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist, with assistance from SITC, inspecting a parcel
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialist, with assistance from SITC, inspects a parcel arriving in the United States at an international mail processing facility. (USDA, Erich Glasgow)

While we are raising awareness about invasive pests during Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, I wanted to share a bit about what I do every day to protect agriculture. When you picture someone on the front lines of stopping invasive pests, you probably picture someone outside – in a field or a tree. But I fight invasive pests from a completely different location – my computer.

A big way invasive pests can move from one location to another is through unregulated internet sales. We are seeing more and more of these sales, and it’s a real concern. Why? With normal commercial or retail sales, we can use techniques like quarantines and fumigation to make sure that purchased items are pest-free or don’t enter pest-free areas. But many times, sales on the internet do not follow these techniques, opening up the chance for invasive pests to move freely to new areas. My job is to look for these types of sale offers online and stop them.

It may not seem exciting, but I enjoy the challenge. Looking for person-to-person sales of prohibited agricultural items on the internet involves a lot of research and investigative work. I use many tools to help me do my job, including open source, government and subscription databases and software that lets me form a “map” of connections to provide a visual of how prohibited items are moving into the country. When I identify a sale of regulated items, I work with the internet company to identify the buyers and sellers, and work to close the pathway by stopping the sale. This can be by removing or amending the listing to include restrictions on where the product may be sent. In many cases, I coordinate with other SITC employees, who physically visit the locations to perform inspections and search for the prohibited item(s).

One area where we see growing promotion and sales of agricultural products is on social media. I am spending more time reviewing social media posts to look for previously unidentified pathways for items to enter the U.S.

I enjoy my work and I’m proud of the role I play in helping stop illegal internet sales. I never know what my day will look like. Many days, I never leave my computer. Other days, I may give presentations to help others understand the work we do. I’m even the lead author on a white paper on preventing illegal sales through e-commerce. I worked with officials from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand on that project. In 2017, I received the Employee of the Year award from the Plant Protection and Quarantine leadership for my efforts to protect American agriculture.

We are increasing our outreach and education activities to help make sure people understand why buying agricultural items on the internet – especially from foreign countries or individuals instead of companies – can be dangerous. I find many people just aren’t aware that certain products are restricted or banned completely. They just want to purchase something and look for the best deal.

Help me raise awareness and protect our agriculture from invasive pests. Be careful when buying agricultural products on the Internet. When in doubt, you can always contact us to find out if an item is allowed, restricted or banned. Together, we can keep harmful invasive species from entering the country through illegal internet sales.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has proclaimed April 2018 as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month (PDF, 518KB). The goal of IPPDAM is to: increase public awareness of invasive species; provide tips to prevent their spread; and, encourage residents to report signs of them.

A detector dog
Trained detector dogs can check mailed parcels and cargo for invasive pests that can lead to costly eradication efforts if they become established. (USDA photo)
Category/Topic: Animals Technology