Protecting the U.S. grains industry from the Khapra beetle is no small task. Keeping it from being a major pest in the U.S., when it is a major pest in many other parts of the world, is a responsibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) working with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The little beetle is commonly found in rice being exported around the world, and China has now demanded that the U.S. prove its rice, if exported to China, would not have any Khapra beetles, dead or alive, in it.

U.S. government and farm industry officials say that the U.S. doesn’t have a problem with Khapra beetles, but China won’t open the country’s rice import market without proof that U.S. rice poses no threat of infesting their country with the beetles.

It has been reported that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at a bilateral meeting later this month in San Francisco with Chinese officials of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) will attempt to convince the officials there isn’t a risk.

It is interesting how detections of the Khapra beetle at U.S. border inspections are reported in the media every so often. A quick search of news shows that keeping the beetle out of the country requires a lot more than inspecting large shipments of grain coming into the country, although those are the most worrisome. It is difficult to determine how many interceptions of the beetle make the popular media, although some do appear in print and broadcast.

In August, a 43,000 pound shipment of rice from Pakistan with Khapra beetles was intercepted at the Port of Baltimore, Md. In November, a shipment of 1.2 million pounds of soybeans and 88,000 pounds of rice from India was turned away at the Port of Oakland, Calif. The choice for those shipping the grains is to have it destroyed or re-exported elsewhere; re-exported is what happened to both of these shipments.

As seen, the infested grain shipments can occur at any port, but problems exist at other import/ travel locations. For example, beetles were found in a passenger’s baggage last fall at the Philadelphia International Airport. A family arriving from Saudi Arabia via Qatar had a nine-pound bag of rice with them; inside were inactive or dead Khapra beetles, but still not-acceptable for bringing into the country.

And at Lewiston, N.Y., in November at the customs and border crossing from Canada, while checking a truck’s cargo, inspectors discovered Kharpa larvae inside an ocean container of rain ponchos.

The Khapra beetle, which is between 1.6 and 3 millimeters long, looks a little like the brown version of a ladybug. It is considered one of the world’s most damaging pests as it quickly multiplies and destroys or contaminates large volumes of grain in storage. The bugs are extremely hard to kill, because of their resistance to most insecticides and even fumigants. It can live for long periods without food or water, which apparently is a way it protects itself from pesticides, too.

“Previous U.S. detections of this tiny beetle have required massive, long-term and costly control and eradication efforts,” reports the USDA’s hungrypests.com, a website devoted to raising awareness of invasive pest threats.

The last series of concerns about Khapra beetles being big news in the U.S. was during 2011 as our AgProfessional.com website archives show.

“Because of their warm climates, the Khapra beetle has the most potential for establishment in Arizona, California, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas,” also according to USDA postings.

The beetle is native to India but has spread through the Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The khapra beetle is known as a ‘dirty feeder’ because it damages more grain than it consumes, and because it contaminates grain with body parts and hairs. These contaminants may cause gastrointestinal irritation in adults and is especially worrisome for sickening infants.