LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Illegal meat from China is flooding into the U.S., federal officials say it's never been this bad. In part two of our exclusive report, 13 Action News goes inside a secure facility to see how officers are stopping these dangerous products from landing in Nevada and across the country.
"This by far is the worst I've ever seen it," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisor Brian Hamilton. "I've never seen this level of animal product interceptions ever."
CBP says it's seeing record levels of prohibited meat coming from Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea and especially China. Hamilton says products such as pork, chicken, beef and duck are being seized on a regular basis at the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport.
"Last fiscal year, we had about a million pounds of contraband intercepted," Hamilton said. "This first quarter, this fiscal year, we're roughly at a 33 percent increase."
13 Action News has your first look inside this undisclosed warehouse where officers are examining thousands of products.
"We do work with the FDA, we work with EPA to ensure that we are adhering or we are ensuring that their regulations are enforced," said section chief Laura Tapia.
From October to December of last year, Tapia and her team discovered more than 262,000 pounds of prohibited meat.
"We do have multi-level screening," Tapia said "So it is a paper review, a non-intrusive inspection and then the physical inspection."
In a recent bust, officers searched through a shipment labeled "All Kinds" of freight.
"So we really open up a box and it's like, 'Oh surprise! Look what we have here'," Hamilton said "We got slippers mixed in with sausages. I mean, that's how actually we see it."
Suspicions are raised when there's no paper trail for these products.
"If we discover it on our own because they didn't give us the documentation and explain what was in the shipment, then we'll treat it as they're misrepresenting the shipment," Hamilton said. "The hardest part recently has been at times, really identifying who is the owner."
Hamilton is an Agricultural Specialist and says the concern isn't whether the meat is safe to eat. These products could be dangerous to U.S. crops and livestock.
"We don't know exactly what's in here other than it is pork related," Hamilton said. "So there's various diseases in Asia, in particular, China. China's infected with ASF. ASF stands for African Swine Fever and it is a quite dangerous disease."
The packaging alone could pose a risk. Thrown away and sitting in a landfill, birds could help spread potential viruses.
"These viruses are very virulent. It's very difficult to eliminate. If it drops into a field, an area where they may be raising cows for feed, that could potentially impact that industry," Hamilton said.
That's why officers even inspect crates carrying boxes of products. Improperly treated wood and other materials could be holding hidden dangers.
NOXIOUS WEED SEED
"Here's a sample we just got. Two of my inspectors found what maybe a federal noxious weed seed," Hamilton said. "And what the issue is is that this particular weed seed could wreak havoc in our pastures where cattle are feeding."
This sample will be sent to USDA botanists for further examination. It's a never ending job to stop smugglers trying to make a profit without regard to the safety of Nevadans or anyone else across the nation.
"We, over the years, have gotten smarter by employing various intel agencies and groups to help us improve our targeting. We are actually seeing the benefit of us coming together," Hamilton said.