U.S. Customs And Border Protection Inspect Flower Shipments Before Valentine's Day

Feb 13, 2015

Flower shipments are inspected at LAN Cargo's facility for pests and plant diseases.
Credit Junette Reyes / WLRN

Miami International Airport is acting Cupid as Valentine’s Day approaches, receiving and shipping over 90 percent of flowers imported to the United States.

The overwhelming number of flower shipments from South America and other regions bring up concerns of pests and plant diseases for the nation’s agricultural and floral industries.

Together, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, LAN Cargo, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection go through an annual inspection process to prevent the industries from being harmed.

Emilio González, director of Miami-Dade Aviation, calls the inspection process an act of science and art, given the time limitations.

“When you talk about flowers, it can be somewhat of an esoteric topic, but the fact remains that the flower business is a business and it’s a huge business for us,” says González.

Lines of Customs and Border Protection employees go through the flower shipments in LAN Cargo’s cold storage facility. The delicate perishables are briskly shaken and patted over a slab before being repackaged for shipping.

Gil Kerlikowske, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner, says the work needs to be done in an expeditious manner, but that the primary function is to protect America’s agricultural business.

“When you think of the important work that CBP does, it’s securing our nation’s border but it’s also securing our economic opportunity,” says Kerlikowske.

The flower inspections are conducted regularly, but the weeks before the holiday, nearly 2 million dozen flowers come through the airport per day, raising concerns even higher.

Fernando Poitevin, chief operating officer of LAN Cargo, says over $15 million have been invested into the storage facility in the last five years.  

“We make sure that we keep enforcing the sustainable growth of this industry in the future, making sure that we deliver the flowers in a safe and secure manner,” says Poitevin.

As Valentine’s Day nears, the mission is to have all flowers inspected and shipped within a timely manner while safeguarding the agricultural industry.

“Getting things through in a timely manner, making sure that the end user has it is something that we’re all very proud of,” says González.