Undeclared in-flight snack nets $300 fine
A US couple made a mistake by not declaring the fresh produce to Customs, but did they really deserve to be fined?
Imagine the mortification you'd feel if you were re-entering the country and a U.S. Customs official found contraband in your child's backpack.
In the recent case of a Florida couple, that contraband was an undeclared snack -- three cucumbers, a tomato and an apple. They earned the family a $300 fine. (It could have been worse. A $1,000 fine is permitted for a first offense.)
Maybe mortification is the wrong word. The mom and dad were, well, ticked off.
"You're coming off a flight after 19 hours. You're all flustered. You don't know what world you're on. The first thing on your mind isn't vegetables in your backpack," Peter Steinberger told CBS New York.
Just so you're clear about what's expected, here's what a U.S. Customs and Border Protection website says:
All travelers entering the United States are required to DECLARE any meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, animals, and plant and animal products (including soup or soup products) they may be carrying. The declaration must cover all items carried in checked baggage, carry-on luggage, or in a vehicle.
Why? "Prohibited agricultural items can harbor foreign animal and plant pests and diseases that could seriously damage America's crops, livestock, pets, and the environment -- and a large sector of our country's economy." Post continues after video about the TSA's new scanner.
On a typical day, CBP confiscates 11,435 pounds of narcotics, and likely an occasional banana or pear that a traveler forgot to tell them about. (With the cost of airline food, you can't blame people for packing their own.) Agents found and confiscated some forgotten, leftover Canadian beef hot dogs in a cooler when they searched my van at a border crossing several years ago. I was chastised but not fined.
Rules like this are common. For instance, an Australian government website says, "You must declare for inspection all food, plant material and animal products on arrival in Australia to ensure they are free of pests and diseases."
It also says: "Food, plant material and animal products from overseas could introduce some of the world's most serious pests and diseases into Australia, devastating our valuable agriculture and tourism industries and unique environment."
The case of the Steinbergers was one of miscommunication or, perhaps, forgetfulness. Suri Steinberger packed the veggies and fruit in the backpack of one of her two sons so the boys could have a snack on the flight. She wasn't sitting with the rest of the family, and her husband, who filled out the Customs form, didn't know about the produce. Customs found it when the family landed in Newark, N.J.
It seems that agents came down hard. As CBS New York reports, "Customs did say it's up to the discretion of the officer to 'destroy' the product or 'fine the traveler,' discretion this family said was sorely missing."
Your thoughts: Appropriate fine or overzealous enforcement?
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Having just come back last week from traveling to Africa and spending 24 hours in the air and at airports, I can speak a little on the subject. If you do a little research before traveling, and I mean very little, you will find all the restrictions imposed by the airlines regarding what you can and can't bring with you on the plane - it's black and white, no grey. So the fact that the husband didn't know the wife packed the fruit/veggies is a non-issue, and that fact that maybe the wife "forgot" also doesn't work - she shouldn't have packed it PERIOD. The flight attendants were accommodating to passengers that had children on my flight, and were able to provide additional snacks & fruit to them when they were asked. Obviously, these particular children weren't really interested in the snacks either, or else it wouldn't have been found by Customs.
Waiting in line to go through customs I was able to watch the passenger interaction with the TSA/Customs agents, and quite obviously, the more rude you were to them, the stricter the rules got. Funny how that correlates. There is no mention of the parents' attitude towards the TSA/Customs agent, but I am going to guess that they weren't the most cordial of travelers.
I think if I had to spend each and every day dealing with bitchy people who felt they did not need to comply to very clearly stated regulations I would be prone to imposing fines sometimes too.
1) everyone knows that you have to declare that stuff.
2) "discretion" is a great term for "treat me like crap and I will fine you"
3) judging by the fact we even know about this my guess is that these people are complete pains in the ****. Who has time to call a reporter about this? You were wrong, ignorance is no excuse, pay the bill and SHUT UP already!!!!
Anyway, who doesn't know not to bring produce into the country?? Fines are a perfectly legitimate incentive not to "forget" about the rules of international travel. I was tired after a long day at work once, I was in a hurry to get home, I "forgot" what the speed limit was, I got a ticket. Funny thing is, nobody did a story on it.
They should be fined!!!!!! how did all these invasive pest get in this country, Japanese beetle, Asian carp, pythons, mussels, ect ect ect, ,,, IT is the law for a reason, one wrong fungus on that fruit and it could destroy millions of dollars worth of crops, one wrong spider on insect could start a epidemic. Pay your fine and learn from it,
Expected to hear same explanation. "You have to pay $21 for taxes" or lose the booze.
Same airport - different laws.
Who doesn't know you can't bring animals, plants, fresh fruits and/or veggies across borders?!! Seriously... Unbelievable...... Not like its ever been a secret. I knew this even before I applied for a passport and I read it several times during the process. One big "D'oh!" moment for these people.
Amazing how clueless people are when traveling to and from countries.
Just because you are traveling with children is no excuse for being ignorant of the laws of the country you are entering. If they are your kids you are liable for their actions till they are 18. You decided to procreate so you now have the responsibility deal with it.
One of the questions you are asked when you check in at the departure airport is " did you pack your bag and has anyone else been near it." If you get on a plane and someone else packed you bag and you don't know what's in it you are a idiot.
And in closing. When you land in the USA and have not cleared Immigration and Customs you are NOT officially in the USA. so the Constitution does not apply to you till you are safely in the terminal. It is wise to check your attitude and be very polite and nice. Blowing the customs agent attitude because it's just a kids snack will get you a $300 fine. It could have been $1000. Every time I have seen anyone get attitude with a agent they have come out on the losing end.
We grow pecans, and try not to spray with poisons. For instance, aphids are a big lover of pecan trees, and we (at fairly serious expense) buy lacewing larvae so they can help control the problem. Then I hear about people who illegally bring food into the country; it is so frustrating! I can understand a mistake like this one regarding a child's snack. But there is even a comment here from a person who thinks that her or his gourmet palate can only be satisfied by hiding food to bring into the country. You must be very proud of yourself.
Do those of you who flout these requirements think the rules about bringing in even one piece of fruit are a nuisance, or just silly? Take a few minutes and think about what happens if that one apple or the other smuggled tasty foods harbor a pest or disease that could decimate specific crops. Think food prices are high now? If a crop is under attack by the disease or pest you brought in, prices will definitely rise. Rethink the selfish attitude and the gluttony. Keep your food supply safe.
I remember in the 70's our potatoes being confiscated (along with some other produce) at the Canadian border...this is not something new
but i have never heard of someone being fined (makes me wonder about the parents), usually just throw the stuff away
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