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January 24, 2020

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No holiday on the front line of import security

Having breakfast in a hurry on Wednesday morning and with no time to say goodbye to his family, 38-year-old Shi Yong grabbed his coat and rushed to a customs station for inspection and quarantine near Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

There, he and his colleagues check imports of seafood, meat, vegetables, flowers, aquatic animals and wild animals to ensure food security for citizens and the safety of domestic species.

At 8:30am, Shi was in position with two colleagues and ready to start work. This will be the 13th year he has been on duty over Chinese New Year.

The days before the holiday are extremely busy because merchants target the Spring Festival holiday as a great chance to import and sell high-end seafood and meat to customers preparing for family dinners.

The team checked some 50 batches of food in the morning with more expected later in the day. It’s usual for them to work day and night before Spring Festival.

At 1pm, more than 800 kilograms of live spiny lobsters from the coastal waters of southern Australia arrived at the center. Shi and his colleagues — 47-year-old Xu Binbin and newly qualified 22-year-old Zhang Qi, verified information on the declaration documents and inspected the lobsters by hand.

If any appear to be abnormal, samples will be sent to a laboratory for tests while the others are held in the meantime, preventing substandard food from entering.

“For some other species, like crabs, we also need to test if they have problems such as excessive heavy metals,” Shi said.

As a postgraduate in zoology, Shi has a great knowledge of animals and can easily identify the origin of the lobsters by sight. Working in the customs’ inspection and quarantine section, he can use his knowledge to help keep pathogenic microorganisms or alien invasive species out of the country.

He said that although he sometimes failed to show up at the family dinner table for the Spring Festival celebration, they understood and supported his career. “I’ll always be at my post when there is a need,” he said.

Shen Weidong, a leading customs official at the airport, said the inspection and quarantine of aquatic life, especially live creatures, was challenging because of the conditions, such as temperature, needed to keep them alive.

But experienced customs officers are able to complete checks quickly and can soon identify problems and deal with them in a timely manner, Shen said.


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