USDA highlights nativity scene concerns

by Robert Szostek
U.S. European Command Customs and Border Clearance Agency Public Affairs

HEIDELBERG, Germany ― Many European countries have a tradition of making nativity scenes at Christmas time that Americans love to buy. However, the natural products used to make them are often banned from import to the U.S. because of the agricultural pests that could be nested in them. Shoppers should note that they can be fined $100 or more if they mail scenes that contain moss, bark, pinecones, untreated straw or other materials found to contain insects.

However, Department of Agriculture officials say people can send nativity scenes that are produced using stripped wood, plastic, or commercially cleaned and lacquered straw. Italy, for example, has a custom of recreating the nativity scene called Presepe. These representations contain miniature clay figures that craftsmen have made for hundreds of years. German nativity scenes are called Weihnachtskrippen and contain carved or ceramic figures.

The figurines themselves pose no agricultural risk and can be sent or taken stateside. However, the figures are often housed in a village setting made of natural bark decorated with peat moss.

“The bark frames or peat moss parts of these nativity scenes can contain damaging insects or other pests and are therefore prohibited from being imported into the U.S.,” said Bill Johnson, director of the European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency.