Customs and Border Protection officials are expecting to process and inspect more than 1 billion imported stems of flowers in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day next Wednesday, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson confirmed Friday.
Although the DHS agency is often associated with apprehending illegal immigrants and narcotics on land and sea, its Miami branch is known as the headquarters for floral importation inspections between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 every year.
“People don’t think of agriculture when they think of Customs and Border Protection — however, CBP agriculture specialists work diligently to protect our country from invasive species that have the potential to damage ecosystems and our economy," said DHS Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke.
Duke traveled to the Florida city this past week to see how the Miami International Airport Agriculture Air Cargo Branch — tasked with inspecting 91 percent of all imported fresh-cut flowers — are processed.
CBP officers at the Miami facility processed more than 954 million stems of flowers in 2017 and intercepted more than 1,000 plant pests. Exotic pests and foreign animal diseases cost an average of $138 billion in economic and environmental losses every year.
"When those flowers make it to your home, we want it to be safe, not only for you but the environment and our country," Duke said. "I was proud to spend the day in Miami to see firsthand the important work they are doing to ensure even the tiniest of pests don’t enter our country."
CBP in Los Angeles processed the second-highest amount of stems at 40 million; followed by Otay Mesa, Calif., at 25 million; and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, which saw 19 million stems of flowers.
A grand total of 1.063 billion stems of flowers were imported during the 2017 Valentine's Day season. Roses made up a third and mixed bouquets were the second-highest type at 190 million.
The largest exporter is Colombia. The South American nation shipped 718 million stems of flowers to the U.S. in the six weeks leading up to last year's holiday. Ecuador followed with 243 million and Mexico took third place with 36 million.