Iowa’s pork producers can rest easy knowing the Beagle Brigade is sniffing out potential agricultural biosecurity risks daily at the nation’s airports, borders and ports of entry.

It’s a good bet that Ozcar, a member of the ag K9 team, will catch a whiff of that prosciutto sandwich or guava fruit while on patrol and alert handler Sari Hall, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) K9 ag specialist, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

“His favorite actually is ham,” joked Hall, speaking at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines June 7 about the importance of U.S. agriculture security measures. “If you have pork…he’ll find it.

“In Chicago, we have a lot of European flights, so people love to bring that kind of product over.”

That’s problematic, said Lee Scheele, California ag liaison with the CBP.

“Most people really don’t un­derstand the risk of bringing in that ham sandwich … the risk of picking up that prosciutto and bringing it back to the U.S.,” he said. “The risk may be low, but the consequences are high, and we can’t take that risk.”

What if that sandwich were to be thrown out the car window, and a feral hog picks it up, he said. 

“You might have an outbreak  of ASF (African swine fever). It could happen just like that … A couple of nose rubs or biosecurity lapse somewhere, and we have a problem.”

Hall and Scheele joined Lisa Becton, National Pork Board (NPB) director of swine health, and Stephanie Wisdom, NPB director of animal welfare, to update Pork Expo visitors on the groups’ partnership and increasing efforts to safeguard against foreign animal disease (FAD) and to protect the public against biological threat.

Becton said the NPB and National Pork Producers Council have ramped up FAD preparedness efforts, providing $22 million in pork checkoff funding for preparedness activities.

A recent Iowa State University study estimates a massive $7.5 billion impact over 10 years should a FAD spread in the U.S.

Wisdom said, “We’ve been working with our producers for years now to have a plan for your farm, for your operation for FAD.  We’re seeing success in that.”

Increased security

Becton said K9 specialists are the first line of defense to guard the nation’s ag interests.

“If they weren’t here, much could be introduced into the U.S.,” she said.

Pigs feet arriving from Africa concealed within fish to mask the smoky odor, eggs from Mexico that could carry Newcastle disease or Longan trees that produce edible fruit being smuggled into California are among the items seized every day.

Pork products are popular seizures, added Hall. “The first time at Atlanta, in a training environment ..., Ozkar found somebody’s prosciutto sandwich in their backpack,” she said.

He also located a pangolin, one of the most trafficked mammals in the world prized for its scales and claws in traditional medicine.

Ozcar and his team of seven beagles and three labrador re­trievers screen passengers, carry-on bags and checked luggage at O’Hare for beef, pork and fruits and vegetables. 

They’ll sniff out soil, too, as nematodes, bacteria and diseases all travel in the dirt.

Ozcar will alert if he smells meat or citrus. Seized items are shredded or incinerated to make sure anything that’s living is destroyed and diseases are rendered harmless.

Ag safety priority

More than 22,000 items were seized in 2022 at O’Hare airport. Nationwide, Scheele said 860,000 passengers per day are screened by 26,000 custom officers (including 2,700 ag specialists). 

“Our employees are looking at agriculture coming into this country to ensure that it’s safe — that we protect the farms in the U.S.,” said Scheele.