Ensure US-bound shipments are soil-free

Photo courtesy of Daviles / Freepik, Man making crossing. Designed by Freepik

WIESBADEN, Germany — Europe is home to many agricultural pests that are not found in the United States and soil is a natural hideout for them. Importation of soil into the United States from foreign sources is prohibited.

Personnel assigned to Europe must remember to clean anything that collects dirt before they send it stateside. The pests soil contains can cause great damage to the U.S. farming economy.

“You can unwittingly introduce invasive pests into the U.S.,” said Julie Aliaga-Milos, U.S. Department of Agriculture adviser at the U.S. European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency. “It only takes one bit of soil on your car, lawn furniture, bicycle, field gear or boot.”

Vehicles and military equipment are especially prone to collecting dirt, mud and soil, she added, which is why they must be thoroughly washed before they can be shipped stateside. Screening soil for the spectrum of organisms that might be harmful is expensive, which is why it is cheaper and more effective to wash items contaminated by soil overseas.

“Soil is strictly controlled under USDA’s quarantine regulations because it can readily provide a pathway for a variety of dangerous organisms into the United States,” Aliaga-Milos explained. The Code of Federal Regulations 7 CFR 330.300 lists the federal authority for these conditions and safeguards.

That is why EUCOM has a border clearance program that inspects household goods, privately owned vehicles and military shipments destined for the U.S. to ensure they are free of soil. The Department of Defense works directly with USDA in the EUCOM and AFRICOM areas to enforce this soil-free standard.

Soil is a mixture of organic and inorganic materials.  It is the loose surface material of the earth and the major medium for plant growth. Some examples of soil or soil constituents are topsoil, forest litter, wood or plant compost, humus and earthworm castings.

This mixture can support biological activity and can therefore also contain numerous harmful animal diseases, plant pests and noxious weed seeds. These pests include bacteria, viruses, fungi, nematodes, and life stages of destructive mollusks and insects.

Materials free of organic matter such as pure sand, clay, talc, rocks, volcanic pumice, chalk, salt, iron ore and gravel, however, can be imported. These materials must be mined or collected so they are free of organic material such as roots, grasses, plant debris or leaf litter.

Likewise, road dust, sand or grime on a car is not a threat because it cannot support biological activity. However, dirt that has collected over time and contains organic materials is a threat and must be removed.

Call a military customs office to find out more about agricultural threats to the U.S. or visit our website at www.eur.army.mil/opm/customs/uscustoms.htm

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