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Philly CBP Interrupts Plants, Seeds Smuggling Attempt

Release Date: 
October 5, 2012

Philadelphia - On the surface it looked as though an Israeli couple was bringing chocolate, beads and other interesting things in containers to Philadelphia International Airport Tuesday. But what Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists found buried under that chocolate and beads alarmed them.

Customs and Border Protection seized 38 plants and 196 types of seeds that an Israeli couple tried to smuggle through Philadelphia International Airport Oct. 2, 2012. The plants and seeds were wrapped inside aluminum foil and concealed under chocolates, beads, stones and jewelry inside cookie and baby drink tins and chocolate packaging.

Customs and Border Protection seized 38 plants and 196 types of seeds that an Israeli couple tried to smuggle through Philadelphia International Airport Oct. 2, 2012. The plants and seeds were wrapped inside aluminum foil and concealed under chocolates, beads, stones and jewelry inside cookie and baby drink tins and chocolate packaging.

CBP agriculture specialists discovered 38 live plants and 196 different kinds of plant seeds for propagation wrapped in aluminum foil. They also discovered more plants and seeds wrapped in socks that were stuffed inside boots.

The failed smuggling attempt earned the couple a $300 civil penalty for failure to truthfully declare all their agriculture products.

"This is one of the more egregious agriculture smuggling attempts that we've seen in a long time," said Allan Martocci, CBP Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia. "Typically, we may see prohibited pork, beef or fruit products just tossed inside a suitcase, but this couple went to extremes to conceal these plants and seeds in an obvious attempt to avoid detection."

In addition to assessing the $300 civil penalty, CBP seized and destroyed the plants and seeds.

The couple arrived from Tel Aviv, Israel about 6 a.m. Tuesday and was referred to a secondary agriculture inspection. They declared possessing only an apple. While inspecting the couple's seven suitcases, CBP agriculture specialists discovered an assortment of containers, including a butter cookie tin, baby drink container, and chocolate tins and boxes. Those containers appeared to be filled with beads, stones, jewelry and chocolate. But below top layers of those products hid aluminum foil packages that contained plants and seeds.

Plants pose several potential agriculture threats. Plants can be vectors to invasive insect pests, soil bacteria or plant diseases. Seeds may sprout invasive plants or noxious weeds that could choke out native plants, including crop plants that drive our nation's agriculture industry and feed our economy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the importation of plants for planting under the authority of the Plant Protection Act.

One of CBP's primary border security missions is agriculture protection, which includes enforcing USDA import regulations. CBP employs several layers of detection, from the simple declaration form to arrivals questioning, and from agriculture detector dogs to x-rays and to physically opening baggage.

CBP offers travelers several opportunities along the examination to truthfully declare their agriculture products, and only assesses civil penalties when travelers refuse to make a truthful declaration. Civil penalties can range from $300 to $2,000.

"Most travelers are honest; some are not. Customs and Border Protection employs several layers of enforcement to catch invasive insect pests or plant or animal diseases at our border before it can pose a threat to America's agriculture industry," Martocci said. "We take our agriculture protection mission very seriously."

For more information on USDA APHIS plant regulations, please visit their website.

To learn more about admissible and prohibited products, please visit CBP's Travel page.

CBP agriculture specialists have extensive training and experience in the biological sciences and agricultural inspection. On a typical day, they inspect tens of thousands of international air passengers, and air and sea cargoes nationally being imported to the United States and seize 4,291 prohibited meat, plant materials or animal products, including 470 insect pests.

To learn more about CBP agriculture specialists, please visit their website.

Last modified: 
February 9, 2017