Press Release

A Better Way to Stop Bugs at the Border

Aug 17, 2016

WASHINGTON—Plants imported into the United States sometimes hold more than leaves and stems. They also can transport non-native invertebrate pests and pathogens hidden amid the foliage that can cause substantial ecological and economic damage if they establish in the environment. In the United States, that pathway is growing—over the past four decades, the dollar value of imported plants for planting has grown at 68 percent per decade.

The job of protecting agriculture and natural resources falls to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Inspections of live plant imports at the border are one means for reducing the entry of invasive pests into the United States. Now, Resources for the Future (RFF) has posted a new paper describing research to help optimize the effectiveness of those important inspections: “Harnessing Enforcement Leverage at the Border to Minimize Biological Risk from International Live Species Trade.” The authors are Michael R. Springborn and Amanda R. Lindsay, University of California, Davis; and Rebecca S. Epanchin-Niell, RFF Fellow.

In it, the authors evaluate the gains from a risk-based inspection strategy relative to uniform inspections of live plant imports for reducing the number of infested shipments accepted into the United States. The optimal strategy is a regime that inspects with certainty shipments from exporters with the highest interception rate history, covering a little over half of all incoming shipments. This state-dependent inspection approach involves directing approximately 4 out of every 5 inspections toward these higher risk imports. The policy is predicted to cut the rate of accepted infested shipments by 20 percent relative to uniform inspections, simply by reallocating a fixed level of inspection resources. The gains are achieved largely by better incentivizing exporters to clean up their shipments to reduce their costs from inspection and interception.

Read the full paper: Harnessing Enforcement Leverage at the Border to Minimize Biological Risk from International Live Species Trade.

Note: A newer version of this paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization:

Springborn, M.R., A.R. Lindsay, and R.S. Epanchin-Niell, Harnessing enforcement leverage at the border to minimize biological risk from international live species trade, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2016), doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2016.03.011.

Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions. Please attribute any findings to the authors or the research itself. For example, use "According to research from RFF …" rather than "According to RFF …".

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.