U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists working in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) seized 200 pounds of prohibited fresh dates that a passenger, who arrived from Qatar last month, allegedly carried inside luggage.

The customs agriculture specialists had referred the passenger to agricultural secondary for examination, and during the secondary inspection the traveler provided a verbal declaration on carrying fresh dates from Saudi Arabia, a CBP spokesman said. The agriculture specialists discovered and seized 10 plastic baskets containing approximately 20 pounds of the fruit in each, according to CBP.

Customs officials noted that fresh dates from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are prohibited in the United States due to the possibility of disease and insect infestation. The planthopper species, mites, and scale insects are considered pests of palm trees and their fruit. The introduction of any of these insects into the United States agriculture could be financially catastrophic, CBP officials said.

“CBP agriculture specialists play an active role in protecting the U.S. agriculture industry and I applaud the efforts that lead to this important discovery,” said Carlos Martel, CBP acting director of field operations in Los Angeles.

“The introduction of foreign pests and plant diseases, even if accidental, is a significant threat to American agriculture with potentially severe consequences to our nation’s farming industry and economy.”

In fiscal year 2009, CBP agriculture specialists seized more than 1.5 million prohibited meat, plant materials or animal products, including 166,727 agricultural pests at ports of entry.