In her article comparing French and American ingredients ("The French Method--Measuring Up to America's Standards," Food, Oct. 8), Anne Willan begins by treating the subject of food smuggling with a light touch better reserved for creating French pastry. Then, as if offering the Household Hint of the Week, she closes by telling her readers exactly how to smuggle truffles into the United States.
(The "perfect solution" was hardly that: packing contraband of any kind in mothballs is an old smugglers' ploy well known to most federal inspectors. Willan was fortunate not to have been caught.)
It was only later, she says, that she was "chagrined" to discover that truffles are not banned. (All that work for nothing!) While it is true that truffles free of soil may enter this country, Willan broke federal law not once, but twice, if she did not own up to the truffles. The Customs declaration form presented each traveler arriving in the United States (1) specifically asks if he or she is carrying any "fruits, plants, meats, other plant or animal products, etc. . . ." and (2) requires a declaration of all "articles acquired abroad. . . ."
Why all the fuss over some fancy fungi? If there were soil clinging to these plants, they could introduce a variety of dangerous foreign insects, weeds and plant or animal diseases. And eradication costs for livestock diseases like African swine fever or foot-and-mouth disease would be far higher than the millions spent already to battle the Mediterranean fruit fly in California. The Medfly, by the way, may well have entered the country in a single infested orange or other fruit.
Since 1912, this department has worked diligently to protect American agriculture from deadly foreign animal and plant pests and diseases (and to eradicate any that do get in before they affect our national economy). At the same time, because we want to give travelers as much freedom as possible to enjoy souvenirs from abroad, we place only necessary restrictions on agricultural products. That's why international travelers--and editors--must understand the importance of agricultural quarantine and help support it.