When Pigs Can't Fly

The Washington Post


April 27, 2008

Scott Vogel

Q. In Spain, tourists get to savor delicious Serrano ham practically anywhere but are cautioned that our Department of Agriculture minions will seize the product if we attempt to bring it into this country. Is this true? Why?

A. Your passion for this long-cured Spanish delicacy is to be commended, but is that any reason to dis an entire federal agency? And before you answer, consider this: The only thing keeping out all those mad cows and foot-and-mouth types who lurk among the pigs you love are customs agents and people at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. People like Masoud Malik.

"Our regulations do not allow any meat products to be brought in from certain countries" by private individuals, he told us. "That includes all of Europe and all ruminant meats from there: cattle, sheep, goats, any animal with four stomachs."

Four stomachs? Wait, is a pig a ruminant?

"No, but they have their own diseases as well," Malik said, among them swine vesicular disease and classical swine fever. He went on to warn that the agents that cause disease "cannot really be inactivated by normal cooking and heating. So that's why we do not allow it." (For more information on import restrictions, see http://www.aphis.usda.gov or call 301-734-3277.) Further, people who try to enter the United States with, say, a pig's leg stuffed in their pants "are taking a chance not only for them, but for the livestock of this country," Malik said.

Coincidentally, Malik has just returned from inspecting a plant in Spain, one that he approved for shipping meat to the United States. Why not make it easier on yourself and secure your Serrano from a company such as La Tienda? The Williamsburg importer's prices aren't cheap, but for those with a fever for swine, there's currently no better option (800-710-4304, http://www.tienda.com).

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