One of several chicken skeletons seized by agricultural inspectors at the Port of Baltimore. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection One of several chicken skeletons seized by agricultural inspectors at the Port of Baltimore. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Plenty of cargo moves through the Port of Baltimore, but a series of shipments that arrived beginning July 5, set off immediate alarms.

In the containers: chicken skeletons. Even worse: chicken skeletons that lacked proper import permits.

“The chicken skeletons appear to be intended for display or educational purposes; however, federal law requires an import and health certificate for most animal products imported into the United States due to the potential threat of foreign animal diseases that could threaten U.S. agriculture and our economy,” said Susan Thomas, acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director for the Port of Baltimore, in a news release.

Officials are concerned about the skeletons, in part because of the presence of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in China. Uncertified skeletons pose a threat to the U.S. poultry industry.

The skeletons arrived by sea starting with one shipment of six boxes July 5. The latest shipment of one box arrived Aug. 3. The first shipment included 10 skeletons in boxes and 20 skeletons with chicks in display cases. The second shipment included 12 skeletons.

Agriculture specialists with Customs and Border Protection in Baltimore issued an emergency action notification to the Manassas importer, requiring that the seven cases of chicken skeletons be re-exported or destroyed. The shipments also included skeletons of other animals, such as fish, turtles, rats, snakes and bats.

U.S. officials allow animal product importations once certain import conditions for the specific product have been met.

Such surprising discoveries are part of the work of Customs and Border Protection officials. On a typical day, they inspect tens of thousands of international air passengers, and air and sea cargoes nationally being imported to the United States, and seize 4,919 prohibited meat, plant materials or animal products, including 476 insect pests.