Border station tests insect-ID tech
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Apr 04, 2002
A California border inspection station has successfully tested digital imaging
technology to identify insects found on trucks bringing agricultural products
into the state. The test could lead to other border stations using similar
equipment in two years.
In the 30-day pilot program that ended in February, high-tech equipment
transmitted images of insects from the Blythe Station, located near the
state's border with Arizona, to scientists who identified the creatures
and determined whether they are harmless or destructive, said Larry Cooper,
a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (www.cdfa.ca.gov).
"When a truck comes in and we find insects on that truck and we're not
sure what they are or suspect they could be economically damaging insects,
we test them," he said.
"We take a sample of that insect, put it under a microscope, and digitally
send that picture directly to our scientists at our state laboratory in
Sacramento," he continued. "They immediately can identify and tell the border
station within an hour if that pest is economically damaging and what it
He said the identification procedure normally holds up shipments for
days because the insect itself would have to be sent to Sacramento for evaluation.
Cooper said if the insects are found to be harmless, then the trucks can
proceed to their destination. But if the pests are found to be economically
damaging, then the drivers can either return to the place of origin or fumigate
California has 16 border stations, and Blythe is the busiest, Cooper
said. At that station, about 20 truckloads a month are tested and proceed,
while another 20 return to their state of origin rather than wait for testing
and about eight to 10 fumigate their loads rather than wait for the results.
Cooper said the equipment used in the pilot program costs about $23,000
and consists of a set of microscopic Nikon Inc. lenses provided by Burlingame,
Calif.-based Technical Instrument San Francisco; a Diagnostic Instruments
Inc. Spot RT color zoom camera; and a Compaq Computer Corp. system. Depending
on the budget, the department hopes to equip each station within the next