HONOLULU (AP) — Pests hitchhiking in 40 imported commodities like lettuce and cut flowers account for 90 percent to 95 percent of the pests and potential invasive species entering Hawaii, a state official said Friday.
The Agriculture Department's "Buy local, it matters" campaign addresses the problem by urging consumers to select Hawaii-grown produce at the supermarket. The department is also helping farmers grow these products locally so people won't need to import them, said Carol Okada, plant quarantine manager.
"It's more than just getting the people to want the product, but it's also having the growers being able to grow it," Okada told lawmakers at a hearing on invasive species.
The department is particularly concerned a plant pathogen native to Brazil will sneak into Hawaii in cut flower bouquets. The pathogen called eucalyptus rust is a threat to native ohia trees, which are the dominant tree in Hawaii's native forests.
Hawaii imports 85 percent to 90 percent of its food and a significant share of flowers.
These products come to the islands in cargo brought through state harbors and airports, but budget cuts forced the Agriculture Department to slash in half the number of inspectors checking cargo for pests from 95 in 2009 to 50.